In part two of our three-part series about the 2013 WMS Active Gambler Profile™ report, we emphasized the importance of casinos choosing the best online methods to interact with players. The Internet is a very effective way to reach Active Gamblers, and online communication with players is crucial for establishing a long-term connection and meaningful relationship. In this third and final article in our series, we explore why establishing online connections with players will also be important if online gambling becomes legal. In addition, we explain how these online connections can be utilized as a complement, rather than a replacement, to land-based gaming.

Building a community online will facilitate the convergence of land-based gaming, social/casual/mobile gaming and online gaming. Even though many questions remain about online gambling, the findings of our 2013 Active Gambler Profile™ report support the fact that casino operators should prepare for legalization by cultivating an online-player audience. Online gambling remains a frequently discussed, yet controversial, topic in the United States. Many uncertainties remain, but the potential for online gambling is building— 82 percent of U.S. Active Gamblers think online gambling should be permitted, and 24 percent would be interested in gambling online in the next year if online gambling were legal.

Before we explore online methods that may be useful in preparing for online gambling, it is important to understand the demographics, behaviors and online gambling preferences of the U.S. Active Gamblers who are the most interested in online gambling. Although only a limited number of players are interested in online gambling, these players generally have high potential value for operators. Specifically, U.S. Active Gamblers who are most interested in online gambling tend to be:

• Avid Gamblers, who spend $2,500+ gambling per year (53 percent are interested in gambling online)
• Male
• Under the age of 50 years old
• Educated, with a college degree or higher
• Making a higher income than the average Active Gambler
• Already playing and spending money on online casual games

U.S. Active Gamblers interested in online gambling are more likely than others to currently play a wide variety of games within land-based casinos. Interested online gamblers are also much more likely than others to gamble outside the casino—82 percent of those who are interested in online gambling already gamble outside of the casino, versus only 48 percent of those uninterested in online gambling. Because these players frequently gamble both inside and outside the casino, they may perceive online gambling as a simple extension of their familiar habits and thus be more willing to try it.

U.S. Active Gamblers believe wide varieties of games are conducive to online gambling, demonstrating the broad appeal of an online casino. Games that Active Gamblers frequently play in and outside of the casino closely reflect the games they are interested in playing online. Slots and poker are the top games that U.S. Active Gamblers are interested in playing online, followed by lottery games and gambling on sporting events.

U.S. Active Gamblers who are interested in online gambling are more active on the Internet than the average U.S. Active Gambler. Among the subset of U.S. Active Gamblers who would “definitely” be interested in gambling online if legal, almost 75 percent are Facebook users, 70 percent of whom visit Facebook at least once per day.

The subset of U.S. Active Gamblers who would “definitely” gamble online if legal is already playing casual games online. Ninety percent of U.S. Active Gamblers who are interested in gambling online have played a casual game in the past year. More specifically, nearly 80 percent who are definitely interested in online gambling have played a social casual game in the past year.

A growing trend in casual gaming is offering the player the option to use real money to “purchase” virtual commodities or advance their level or status in the game. The option to purchase virtual currency allows the players to control and expand their experience to fit their personal preferences. The popularity of casual casino-type games among players who are interested in online gambling suggests that there may be a natural progression from casual online gaming, as well as their frequency of paying for virtual currency, to online gambling, if it becomes legal. Trends of paying for virtual currency show just how likely it is for convergence to occur between online gaming and online gambling. Sixty percent of U.S. Active Gamblers who play casual games and have paid for virtual currency would gamble online if it were legal, versus only 23 percent of U.S. Active Gamblers who play casual games but have never paid for virtual currency.

Active Gamblers’ current online behaviors give us a clue into how they would like to gamble online. Because many interested players are already familiar with paying to play casual games online in social casinos, they would expect an online for-money casino to operate in a similar way. Ninety-four percent of U.S. Active Gamblers who are interested in online gambling indicate that if online gambling were legal, they would be interested in wagering through a designated gambling website, while only 15 percent would be interested in gambling through a social media website, such as Facebook. This preference presents an opportunity and a need for operators to build their online following now —and one way this can be achieved is by creating an online casual game casino.

Social casino-type games—play-for-fun poker, for example—in an online casual game casino are the link between land-based gaming and online gambling. Taking action to engage Active Gamblers online and familiarize them with playing any kind of game on your website, including social and casual, will prepare them to spend their valuable, yet limited, entertainment dollars on your online casino if it becomes legal. Capturing player interest now is essential to developing brand loyalty, so you are top-of-mind if the online market opens up, especially to already-interested high-spenders. Incorporating common in-casino promotions, such as players’ club rewards, may encourage players to choose your online social or for-money casino over competitors’.

Engaging players in an online casual game casino also can provide more immediate benefits, unrelated to online gambling, for your land-based casino. Casual games provide immediate monetary benefits to operators from pay-to-play transactions, which are not paid back to the gamer. More value for the operator comes from using casual games as an outlet for players to sample new games and themes. The content and themes of land-based games are increasingly incorporated into online casual games, allowing players to try new games online, which in turn may encourage them to visit a casino to play their favorites in person. Building customer loyalty and incentivizing players online with rewards redeemable in the casino can also drive visits to a land-based casino. An online social casino also allows operators to engage with potential new land-based players in a safe and secure online environment.

Those who are most interested in online gambling appreciate the convenience and flexibility of online gambling; however, brick-and-mortar casinos should not fear that legalization of online gambling would be detrimental to their business. Interest in online gambling is still relatively low—half of U.S. Active Gamblers decidedly would not gamble online in the next year, and one out of four is still on the fence. Land-based casinos provide a unique atmosphere that many players highly value and would not give up for the sole convenience of online gambling. U.S. Active Gamblers’ most common reason for not wanting to gamble online is that they prefer the physical atmosphere of a real casino. Additionally, some players think online gambling lacks the in-person social interaction they enjoy in the casino—one out of four U.S. Avid Gamblers who are not interested in online gambling cite this as a key reason.

Operators should also understand that almost all surveyed U.S. Active Gamblers stated that they would continue playing in a land-based casino, even if online gambling was available. Less than 4 percent of U.S. Active Gamblers interested in gambling online would shift most or all of their gambling spend from land-based casinos to online gambling, signifying that almost all players appreciate the unique entertainment experience of a land-based casino. Some players are also concerned about the level of security, trustworthiness and control they will have over online gambling. Male Active Gamblers, in particular, have several concerns: They fear it may be difficult to win and collect winnings from their online gambling accounts and they are more likely to suspect others will find ways to cheat when gambling online. If online gambling becomes legal, these barriers will need to be addressed through communication with players, as well as with credible, safe and secure user interfaces.

There is much room for growth when it comes to interest in online gambling. Though a strong majority of U.S. Active Gamblers believes online gambling should be legal, only one in four would definitely or probably spend money gambling online in the next year if it was legal. Nonetheless, there will be intense competition to capture loyal players—the new competitor set will include already-established online gaming operators, social gaming companies and land-based casino operators. To be competitive in online gambling, casino operators must prepare for the opportunity now. Rather than being a deterrent from gambling in a casino, social casinos and their potential followers, online for-money casinos, should be viewed as a new opportunity and a promotional tool to motivate players to visit the casino. Building a social casino that provides players with an entertaining experience may help build brand loyalty. Offering promotions or players’ club rewards online that are redeemable in the casino, such as exclusive entry in a poker tournament or a gift certificate to the buffet, may incentivize players to visit the casino more frequently. Tactics such as these can provide immediate benefits to the casino and may help secure the link needed to cross over into online gambling if it is legalized.

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