Usability and Online Gambling

Let me tell you something you hopefully already know… Online gambling is a dark and sinister hole that needs plugging. Nothing good comes from it and it serves no healthy purpose. So if you’re involved in the promotion of gambling in anyway you should have a long hard look at yourself and then try feeding a family of 4 on $20 bucks a week.

If you’re involved in the promotion of ONLINE gambling, you should start questioning what sort of a life sucking, self-centered, lazy ass you are for not finding another job. Then you should give all your savings away, try feeding three children off a pension while covering the rent, and wonder about how you’re ever going to make restitution.

To be absolutely clear, I’m talking about people who facilitate, encourage and entice people to gamble, particularly online. I am not in any way referring to people who gamble. That’s another thing all together and has nothing to do with usability – which is what this post is about.

But first let’s put this issue in perspective and think about what providing a great online gambling experience really means…

Problem gambling, with its potentially devastating impacts on the finances, personal lives and relationships of the affected gamblers, is related to heightened anxiety, depression, and in extreme cases, to suicide.

Up to 60% of problem gamblers will experience some level of suicidal thought. This may be vague (often after major losses), or serious intent with a clear plan. It is also common for clients to have had one or more failed suicide attempts.

The results of a survey (Simon, USA, 1995) on compulsive gamblers found that:

20% had attempted suicide
63% had seriously considered suicide.
These figures were 50 times greater than most ‘within lifetime’ estimates for the general population. – Wesley Mision

A recent post on twitter promoting an article on usability and online betting caught my attention this evening. It said:

Usability and online betting – some good points here [URL cut] #ux @cinteractionlab

My immediate response was to question why a usability professional would promote such a thing as being of use, but then I wondered… Who on earth would write such an article in the first place?! Aren’t we supposed to work in an ethical manner and act with integrity?

When, in a professional capacity (I guess that’s rather questionable) or otherwise, is it ever acceptable to promote methods that enhance the usability or experience of online gambling – or ‘betting’ as they call it (which somehow seems slightly softer and more ‘nanna’ like). Why is it ethically, morally or professionally acceptable for a User Experience Consultancy to conduct and promote this kind of work?

While I refuse to link to the article, here’s one pearl of ‘professional research’ they’d like to share for the next time you enhance a betting site:

The site should convey the range of bets available without compromising task efficiency. This is vital if the site is to encourage ‘impulse’ betting. Although some users will know what they want, others may be looking to be ‘tempted’ and will benefit from having a range of possible bets presented to them.·

In other words, make it as easy as possible, in fact, let’s encourage people to benefit from being ‘tempted’ to gamble money on impulse.

I’m pleased to say the article is actually complete rubbish and if you replaced ‘betting’ with ‘shopping’ or ‘shoes’ you still wouldn’t learn anything new.

But my point is this:

If you’re a web professional, anyone working in usability or any other user experience related role, your job is to enhance the life of others, not ruin it.

With regard to professional conduct, the Usability Professionals Association has published a Code of Professional Conduct
of which three of the seven Ethical Principles are:

Act in the best interest of everyone
Do no harm and if possible provide benefits
Act with integrity
The ‘User Experience Design Consultancy’ would do well to remind themselves of these guidelines before they accept their next job…

Some Dirty Dark Choice Quotes
As I said earlier, I won’t link to the article, you can Google it if you like. But what I will do is tell you that there are no interesting usability tips. If you know the basic elements of usability you won’t learn a thing there. If you don’t know the basics, it certainly isn’t the place to learn them. As User Experience Consultants, this is an unenlightening, useless article.

So what I will share instead is some of their fascinating insights:

“For many users gambling is something of an impulsive habit, and the 24 hour availability of a web-based operation means that users are able to place bets whenever they choose.”
“Placing a bet, which is the common task on any site of this nature, must also be as efficient as possible.”
“The spread betting industry, mentioned above, has seen a number of companies bring a whole new audience profile into the gambling industry, simply by refocusing how the ‘game’ works and the types of events that are used for betting purposes.”
And I especially love this one:

“If this process is slow, confusing or off-putting to the user in any way, site revenues are bound to suffer.”
I wrote about this a few years ago in Ethics, Gambling and Usability, which should provide more background on why I feel so strongly against gambling. But just to reiterate, my issue here is with gambling establishments and other organisations that promote, enhance and facilitate gambling in a way that purposely entices gamblers to bet (and mostly problem gamblers at that). It isn’t with gamblers themselves.

If people choose to gamble, that’s their decision. But making it easier to gamble by enhancing the experience, by making it easier, faster and more efficient to lose money is certainly not acting in the best interest of anyone, it does do harm, it provides no long term benefits (if at all) and it definitely fails to act with integrity.

Some discussion questions…
Is it ever OK to design for the dark side?
What is the dark side for you? What industries would you never design for?
What ethical dilemmas have you faced in creating a good user experience?
Which organisations deserve so much good karma that you would work Pro Bono on the User Experience Design?
Interested in reading more on this topic?
Gambling Research Australia
Youth Problem Gambling In Australia

Need help with Problem Gambling?
Gamblers Anonymous
What is Problem Gambling?
Support Services For Problem Gambling

If you’re Australian, support Independent Senator Nick Xenophon
Xenophon wants gambling draft report made public
Nick Xenophon – Independent Senator for South Australia

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