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What A Recent Survey Really Reveals About New Jersey Gambling Habits

Written By Derek Helling | Updated:
people playing slot machines inside casino

What research into human behavior reveals and what people say about that research are often two very different things. There’s no better proof of that than newly released survey results from Rutgers University’s Center for Gambling Studies.

Researchers presented a new set of data with some intriguing implications for New Jersey’s population. However, it’s important to note the methodology of the research and consider the data in the proper context to glean accurate insights.

The Rutgers study and how researchers got there

The second report to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) from Rutgers’ Center for Gambling Studies is essentially an update to the first such analysis from 2017. The report aims to assess the gambling habits of people in the state.

To do so, researchers invited New Jerseyans to take an online survey or participate in a phone survey. This second poll consisted of 3,512 responses. Researchers endeavored to make that group of people representative of the state’s population as a whole in terms of several demographics.

The questions focused on:

  • How often do people play
  • Where they play
  • Which games do they play
  • And their feelings about their gambling

That data share some interesting tidbits. Despite the passage of six years, some things haven’t changed much.

High-risk gambling behavior holds steady

According to the report, behaviors that are associated with “high-risk problem gamblers” saw a slight decline in the new report as compared to 2017. The report defines that term as “participants who reported gambling in the past year and scored eight or greater (8+) on the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI).”

The percentage of respondents who fell into that category based on that assessment fell from 6.3% in 2017 to 5.6% in the new report. Put against the scale of the survey pool, that means about 196 fewer survey participants fit into that distinction.

There are reasons to not jump to any conclusions like “problem gambling is on the decline in New Jersey” based on this data alone. For starters, a change of 0.07% over six years is statistically insignificant. Additionally, this data does nothing to examine why that number changed even on that minuscule level.

Finally, there’s the social desirability effect that data scientists are well aware of. A 2016 study published by the National Library of Medicine showed the impact of that effect on surveys like this.

Essentially, people lie about their behavior when responding to polls because they want interviewers to think they fit within accepted social norms. That doesn’t mean the survey results are meaningless, however. There are more statistically relevant findings that are of note.

More data to debunk the online casino cannibalization myth

Online casino play in New Jersey is growing more popular. That was already apparent in monthly revenue numbers from the DGE.

New Jersey’s revenue in August for online gambling represented the second-highest monthly total in the state’s history, for example.

The survey data corroborate that growth, showing a 10% rise in people who reported gambling online exclusively. However, that didn’t come with a corresponding decline in respondents who claim they only gamble at physical casinos.

That decline was far greater, shrinking from 76% in 2017 to 49% in the new survey. While that would seem to suggest that the rise in NJ online gambling exclusively could account for a portion of that shrink, more data suggest that isn’t the case.

The survey also shows that the number of participants who report playing both online and at land-based venues increased from 19% to 36%. Thus, it’s difficult to point to even a correlation, much less causation, between online casino play’s growth and fewer people reporting only gambling at physical establishments in New Jersey.

The most important facet of the data is the purpose for which researchers collected it. The intent is to aid the development of programs for people who gamble in New Jersey.

How data can inform New Jersey’s gambling programs

The DGE has already been proactive in terms of letting data drive its actions and policies. Earlier this year, the DGE announced a collaboration with New Jersey online casinos to gather data on gambling behavior that could signal a potential gaming-related behavioral pathology.

Using such information, the DGE has already introduced a dedicated hotline for people with such issues. Additionally, the state has made its gambling self-exclusion program application available online.

Data from the Rutgers Center for Gambling Studies report could direct the DGE to diversify its responsible gambling initiatives, putting even more emphasis on raising awareness among online players. Having the data to comb through can help the DGE make informed decisions on the best use of its resources.

Photo by Wayne Parry / AP Photo
Derek Helling Avatar
Written by
Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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