Both women and men enjoy gambling, but the two genders have much different gaming habits. Women prefer slots and casino games over sports betting, while men prefer sports betting and selected table games. Researchers in Australia and the United Kingdom recently have studied female gaming habits, learning what motivates women’s gaming behavior, how females react to losses, and what types of problem gambling women manifest.
This article analyzes the collected research on women’s gambling habits from the 1940s to the present, making summaries and conclusions. For decades, research on female gambling habits was conducted by men. The collected data was contrast against the gaming habits of men. In the past few years, a new generation of female researchers looked at women’s gambling habits as its own field on study.
As these social scientists took a closer look at the subject, they learned there are generational differences in women’s gaming habits. Female bettors cannot be categorized into one broad group. Baby Boomer women have much different tendencies than millennial females. In fact, researchers learned that women in different countries – even countries with similar social and economic makeups – exhibit much different gaming habits. Broad trends in women’s gambling habits did emerge.
Let’s take the broad view first. Most women prefer luck-based games. Slot machines and lottery betting are their favorite games. Women prefer luck-based casino games for a variety of reasons, but the social aspect of gaming is a major one.
Studies in several countries show that women prefer to visit the casino among a group of friends. If one is concentrating on strategy and optimal play, it distracts from the memories. Slots and lotteries have bigger payouts, which we’ll find is a major factor in a woman’s casino experience. If the point is to win, then one should win big.
For women, slot machines provide a similar entertainment factor. Slots have interesting themes, visually-stimulating graphics, surround-sound music, and other sound effects. Licensed slots provide soundbites from favorite pop culture franchises. Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada studied the way sounds affect slots players.
Sound effects convince players they are winning at slots, when in fact their payouts on most wins are smaller than the cost of playing the spin. Studying the players’ heart rates and skin conductance, Waterloo’s researchers found that slots gamblers have a more accurate perception of wins and losses when the sound effects are turned off.
Men prefer skill-based games, especially bookmaker bets. For instance, 88% of regular sports bettors in Australia are men. Men are drawn to sports betting and race betting because they are games of skill. Sports punters who exhibited signs of problem gambling are male.
In fact, problem gamblers have four common characteristics: they’re male, single, renting instead of owning a residence, and likely to be 18 to 29 years old.
Sports betting allows men to watch sporting events while raising the stakes of the contest. Watching a game without a rooting interest is like watching a movie where one could care less what happens to the main characters. Sports betting gives a bettor an interest in the outcome whether they like teams involved or not.
Males like activities which allow them to prove their skills or, even better, exhibit their skills to others. For that reason, sports betting, poker, and blackjack are favorite casino games for men.
Those are the general differences in women and men, but millennial females diverge from older women gamblers in several ways. Younger women aged 16 to 34 show more diversity in the forms of gambling they prefer. Most still prefer electronic gaming machines (EGMs), but a bigger percentage of millennial female gamblers bet on sports.
Young UK female bettors viewed horse and sports betting as having a significantly lower risk of harm than EGMs. The women studied tended to go to the casino as a “night out” among friends. When asked why they went to a casino, the women’s top reasons were “ease of access” and their “chance of winning big”.
The possibility of winning a big prize is a key element of women’s gambling habits. Along with luck-based gambling, the ability to win a life-changing jackpot is a key trait of both slot machines and lottery betting. While blackjack, poker, and sports betting have elements of skill, they do not offer the chance to win a big fixed jackpot or progressive jackpot.
Even among casino table games, women slightly prefer roulette to blackjack. While blackjack has better odds, the top payout is 3-to-2 at most blackjack tables. Roulette offers a 35-to-1 payout option.
All in all, the study found that females played casino games in order to make money (54.9%) or for the sake of fun (51.8%). Others said it was the lure of winning (53%), while other said they played because they were bored (22.5%).
Women are more naturally cautious at the casino than their male counterparts. When asked what they would do if they won £500, 72.3% of women said they would cash out their winnings immediately. Only 61% of men said they would cash out if they won a £500 prize.
When asked where they gamble using a laptop computer or smartphone, 34% said they gamble in front of the tv set. A shocking 25% said they gambled on their mobile device while in the bathroom or on the toilet. 8% said they had gambled while driving.
Another 11% of total respondents said they had gambled at family events, including weddings and funerals. Women are more likely to switch off their devices when at solemn life events. 12.6% of men said they would take time at a wedding or funeral to gamble, while only 8.4% of women said they would gamble at a funeral or betting.
Women have more brand loyalty in their choice of gambling sites than men. 35% of women polled said they stay loyal to one single gambling website, while 29% of men use one site. Another 31% of women vary betting between two websites. 33% of men varied between two sites. 34% of women use three or more trusted online casinos or sportsbooks, while 36% of men use three or more gambling sites.
Brand loyalty is therefore more important to women, though it is a fairly marginal difference. The key takeaway is that two-thirds of gamblers set on one or two gaming sites and never leave. The percentage of men or women who shop for bonuses or otherwise play the field with online casinos is smaller than online casinos’ and sportsbooks’ marketing managers might suppose.
Associate Professor Samantha Thomas of Deakin University said gambling behavior is changing rapidly over the past 5 years. Part of the change in female Australian gambling habits comes from the kind of marketing campaigns Aussie companies use to entice customers to their sites.
Dr. Thomas said Australian gambling companies now advertise to potential female customers, where before they marketed mainly to men. The Deakin U. professor said, “What we’ve seen over the last 12 months is a change, not only in the tone of those ads, but we’re really starting to see much more gender neutral ads and some ads we think would be particularly appealing for young women.”
Dr. Samantha Thomas of Deakin University said marketing goes beyond television and online advertisements. Gaming machine manufacturers now offer slot machines with themes women prefer. Licensed slot machines like Bridesmaids, Friends, Sex & The City, Dirty Dancing, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s are designed for a female audience. It goes beyond licensed pokies, though.
Online slots developers have designed popular non-licensed slots like Eternal Romance, Fixer Upper, Attraction, Enchanted Meadow, A Night Out, and Ladies Night that appeal mainly to women. Dr. Thomas said of the games in slots row, “Some of those activities are a lot more female-friendly — things like betting on triple j’s Hottest 100 or The Bachelor.”
Much of the research on women gamblers compares problem gambling habits, usually comparing and contrasting female problem gambling to male problem gambling. A group of Australian researchers Deakin University near Melbourne (Simone McCarthy, Samantha L. Thomas, Amy Bestman, Hannah Pitt) published a study that focused on gambling habits among women.
Using a combination of the Reno Model and the Pathways Model, the Deakin U. researchers suggested potential harm reduction techniques in April 2018 which tested 509 women gamblers in Victoria and New South Wales, Australia, along with gamblers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
The Deakin U. researchers, who worked alongside Melanie Randle of the University of Wollongong, Sean Cowlishaw of the University of Melbourne, and Mike Daube of Curtin University in Perth, found that a higher percentage of men gamble each year, but the gap is closing. The study looked closely at Australians, who gamble more per capita than any nation on Earth, with the average Australian spending more than $1,000 each year on betting.
New Zealanders gamble at a higher rate, but Kiwis gamble less per capita than Australians do. The UK focused on the frequency of gambling among women in the United Kingdom, because of the correlation between problem gambling and the frequency with which one gambles. Researchers found that 64% of New South Wales women gambled each year, compared to 66% of NSW men in the study.
In New Zealand, the rate is even higher, with 80.3% of Kiwi women and 80.4% of Kiwi men gambling at least once per year. The prevalence of gambling might be higher in the United Kingdom. The same study found that 53% of men and 44% of women had gambled in the past four weeks, at the time of the study.
Women’s gaming habits vary between countries, showing that cultural, social, and economic factors play a role in their gambling. In January 2017, 888 conducted a poll in the United Kingdom which asked 1,000 people whether about their betting habits in the past month.
60% of female gamblers in the UK had bet on online bingo, 40% had placed online sports bets, and only 34% had played online slots in the past month. 73% of men had placed a bet on sports, while 29.18% had played poker online, and 28.65% had played online bingo in that time.
Among non-slots casino games, 20% of women played poker, while 19% preferred roulette, and 18% played blackjack. In the same survey, 30% of male online gamblers played poker, while 27% played roulette and 23% played blackjack. 26.5% of UK men had played online slots in the past month.
Sport is still king in the United Kingdom among men. In fact, women enjoy betting on sports at a much higher rate in the UK than in Australia or New Zealand. Overall, 58% of British online gamblers had placed bets on sporting events in the United Kingdom.
Women who gamble frequently show a high-risk factor for potential harm. In the study, risk of harm was linked to problem gambling and pathological gambling. Problem gambling is defined as any kind of distress from one’s gambling habits, whether it is gambling more cash than one planned to bet or experiencing anxieties while gambling. Pathological gambling is when compulsion or addiction takes over the gambler’s life.
The study showed that the percentage of women considered at low-risk of gambling harm increased significantly from 2008 to 2014. While only 4.44% were considered at-risk in 2008, that number rose to 9.99% in 2014. The answer to this alarming rise was a generational shift in gambling habits.
Millennial women from Australia, New Zealand, and the UK showed heightened risk for harm from gambling than their predecessors among the Gen X or Baby Boomer generations. This heightened risk is attributed to years of social gaming and smartphone gaming in childhood, which researchers believe conditions millennial women to late play real money online games on their Android phone or iPhone.
The Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRC) studied the gambling behaviors of 605 women and 580 men who were playing on slots row. After detailed analysis of the 1185 poker machine players’ habits, the AGRC found distinct differences in the way the genders reacted to adversity.
Anna Thomas, the AGRC’s manager, said reactions to setbacks at the casino vary between the genders. Thomas said, “Signs of distress are likely to be more commonly seen indicators for female patrons, while signs of anger or aggression may be more likely to be observed for males.”
Researchers observed that women were more likely to show emotion, including crying or elevated signs of sadness. Men lashed out, sometimes even striking or kicking the slot machine. Some were rude to staff, while others exhibited territorial behavior on that section of slots row.
The same study reported that 338 of the gamblers exhibited problem gambling traits, though the study did not list the gender of these 338 problem gamblers.
Women are not a monolithic group when it comes to gambling preferences. Female gamblers have different tastes in games depending on their age and country of origin. Cultural and economic factors impact their gaming habits, while marketing and game design also affect what women prefer to gamble on.
Despite variations in habits, women prefer to play luck-based casino games like slot machines and lottery games. Men prefer to bet on sports or poker, though female bettors are starting to exhibit more interest in skill-based games. Women and men have much different reactions to gaming losses, with women showing distress or sadness while men show anger or aggression.
Overall, women are growing as a percentage of gamblers in western countries. Casino companies and sportsbooks have begun to direct ads at female gamblers in the past few years, so new studies will need to be commissioned to see what impact female-targeted ads have on the casino games women prefer.