Given its origins in ancient patriarchal societies and long association with the military and other male-dominated professions, it’s unsurprising that gambling has hitherto been regarded as a largely male pursuit.
The casino industry in particular, while ever keen to exploit the cachet of glamour that women lend to it, has not always provided a particularly welcoming environment for female participants, nor has it gone out of its way to encourage them — as eye-candy, yes, as punters, no.
And although much has changed in this regard, even a cursory glance at any World Series of Poker tournament table will reveal the majority of players to be men (although there are a significant number of female poker players who now have a major presence on the tour).
However, online gaming has nevertheless created something of a demographic shift, and research has shown that there are now significant numbers of women playing at online casinos and bingo rooms, and that these numbers are on the rise.
For instance, a survey carried out in 2016 in the UK showed that regular online gamblers were 56.2% male and 43.8% female — a gender split that would have once been considered unthinkable.
Equally surprising to some was the growing similarity in the way in which the two sexes gamble online — although there are differences, they are not as marked as might be expected. For instance, 73% of men reported that sports betting was their primary form of online gambling, while for women it was an unexpectedly high 40%. On the other hand online bingo, which was once regarded as a solely female preserve, was also played by almost 29% of male punters, with only 60% of women gamblers citing it as their game of choice.
What this demonstrates is that the gender divide in gambling is shrinking, and also that women are playing a far more active role online than once was the case.
It’s also interesting to look more closely at who the women who gamble online actually are, and how their age and relationship with technology affects the extent to which they play.
The average age for women gambling online is 29, compared to 33 for men. This would therefore suggest that our growing access to and reliance on technology has contributed to the upsurge in women gambling online perhaps as much as the games themselves, as those who play most often could be defined as the first internet generation, young women who conduct almost all of their lives online. Playing online bingo or casino games, or betting on sports online, could therefore be seen as a natural and inevitable extension of how they interact socially.
So what are the implications of this demographic shift for the online gambling industry? With female participation rates rising, online gaming company operators — always quick to spot areas in the market where there is room to expand — have unsurprisingly responded, and in the last few years there have clearly been concerted efforts by a number of operators to widen their appeal and, if not specifically to target women, at least to make the online gaming environment more welcoming. After all, the people running online casinos tend to be pretty shrewd business operators, and they have clearly realised that there is huge, untapped potential in making more of a direct appeal to female players.
One of the most striking and immediate ways that this new, more consciously feminine approach can be seen is the way in which the design and appearance of online casinos have changed, with a whole new generation of operators springing up who understand that there is more value in appealing to a modern, mobile generation rather than the Vegas-style gamblers of the past. Overt masculinity is out in terms of online casino design, and a whole new set of values is starting to dominate the scene.
For instance, take online casinos like Joreels, with its self-conscious parody of 1920s glamour, 777 Casino with its Thelma and Louise inspired design, Casumo with its ultra-contemporary style and cute emoji mascots, or Casino Calzone with its wacky pizzeria setting. At all of these, the emphasis is on fun, engagement and sharing just as much as it is on the casino games, with an additionally strong focus on mobile games that are accessible anywhere and so more appealing to a generation of women who are devoted to their phones.
Casinos like these and others therefore represent a significant move away from the values of the first generation of online casinos that tried to re-create the Las Vegas experience on your desktop, but which as a result may well have been alienating to women, and younger players in general.
And then there are also casino sites that are unashamedly explicit in their direct appeal to women, like Pink Casino and 888 Ladies, where they are actively seeking to create and promote online spaces where women feel comfortable playing casino games. In addition, there are now many online bingo sites targeting women as well, and these too are designed in such a way that female players, traditionally the custodians of the game, will continue to feel at home, despite the increasing numbers of men playing.
What all of these casino and online bingo sites have in common is that they take a more subtle approach and seek to establish different types of relationships with players than the earlier generation of online gaming sites. This is reflected in everything from the language (where fun and interaction are the key), to the images (more humorous and light-hearted, with less up-front emphasis on money), down to the colour schemes, where dark hues are out and have been replaced by lighter and brighter pastel shades, or colourful cartoon-style characters.
So in an industry where the customer is king (or queen!), it is clear that women’s increased participation in online gambling has also precipitated changes in the how that industry presents itself, while at the same time it could also be argued that this new, more inclusive environment has in turn encouraged more women to play online.
The ground is shifting all the time, so it will be interesting when similar research is conducted again in the future to see not only how the industry has further evolved, but also whether this has led to a further evolution in women’s online gambling habits and rates of participation as well.