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Concordia-led team is recognized for its research into online gambling

A study by Martin French, Sylvia Kairouz and colleagues wins the CLSA Article Prize
July 22, 2022

Martin French: "Candy Crush Saga is not a gambling game, per se. But it has a lot of gambling-like retention mechanics."

Two sociology researchers from Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science are celebrating a recent award win for an article examining online gambling.

The Canadian Law and Society Association (CLSA) selected “A Governmentality of Online Gambling: Quebec’s Contested Internet Gambling Website Blocking Provisions” for its annual prize for best article published in its journal.

“It's a big honour,” says associate professor Martin French, who co-authored the article with Concordia graduate Dani Tardif, MA 2016, professor Sylvia Kairouz, and fellow HERMES research team member Annie-Claude Savard (associate professor, U Laval). Kairouz has held the Research Chair on Gambling at Concordia since 2012. She is also the director of the HERMES research team, which examines hybrid gambling forms and their impacts.

French has been at Concordia since 2013 and is leading a multi-year FRC-SC-funded study on risk and gambling in the digital age.

The big picture

The award-winning article ties into the overall mission of the HERMES team as well as its upcoming projects.

“A challenge we face in the field is the way online gambling is offered now, and the framework for regulating online gambling,” Kairouz explains.

“It’s repeatedly coming up in the media, and it’s still an ongoing problem.”

The HERMES team is specifically interested in how online gambling has changed the face of gambling activity, particularly in light of broader societal changes under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regulatory challenges posed by online gambling and games

Games of chance have changed in the digital age. “Once primarily the province of casinos, gambling games can now be accessed from pretty much everywhere, at any time – this poses challenges for responsible gambling interventions, like self-exclusion, that were designed to regulate play in casino settings,” French says.

And it’s not just that gambling games have escaped the casino. They are also escaping our traditional understanding of what should count as a gambling game, and therefore what should be regulated by federal and provincial law.

French points out that today, many so-called free-to-play/pay-to-win games incorporate gambling elements into game-play.

Candy Crush Saga, he notes, is a good example of this. “It's not a gambling game, per se. But it has a lot of gambling-like retention mechanics,” he says.

“Just as a three-reel slot machine encourages people to keep playing with ‘near misses’ — think of a spin where you get a cherry, a second cherry, and almost a third cherry that is partially visible in the top of your screen but that hasn’t come down far enough for you to win — Candy Crush Saga is set up so that players progressively begin to not quite clear levels.

“You haven’t beaten the level, but you have the sense that you might if you just try one more time, and with the help of this or that special booster. These near misses subtly nudge players to make in-game purchases, to buy items (special boosters) that will help them to get to the next level.”

These retention mechanics make Candy Crush Saga “a quasi-gambling game,” French says. But games like this don’t have to play by the same rules as gambling games.

In Quebec, for instance, you have to be over 18 years old to play a slot machine game. Candy Crush Saga, in contrast, has no similarly-enforced age restriction.

The question of how such games can or should be governed by regulators remains unresolved. In Quebec, lawmakers have been preoccupied by a narrow, legal definition of gambling games, as the study by French and colleagues shows.

He argues that they have “thus far largely failed to adequately address the challenges posed by online gambling and quasi-gambling games.”   

New research and a new lab

One way to address this problem, French says, is to broaden public understanding of gambling and quasi-gambling games.

Working in collaboration with community partners, the HERMES team has no plans to slow down. New research is coming out in the fall, and a new lab space is set to open at Concordia’s Sir George Williams Campus in the coming months.

“We are focused on the conversions, or the transformation, of online gambling/gaming,” Kairouz adds.

“Looking at the hybridization of the worlds of gaming and gambling, we want to learn more about the positive and negative impacts of these forms of consumption.”

Learn more about the 
HERMES research team at Concordia.

Read the award-winning article, “A Governmentality of Online Gambling: Quebec’s Contested Internet Gambling Website Blocking Provisions.”

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