Play-For-Fun/Social-Casino Gambling: An Examination of our Current Knowledge


Investigators Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky,  McGill University
Dr. Rina Gupta,  McGill University
Dr. Michael Ellery, University of Manitoba
Research Priority Explore what risk and protective factors (individual, social, environmental) influence the movement back and forth between no risk and problem gambling risk levels.
Funding Small Grant  ($20,000)
Project Status Completed


Project Summary

There is little doubt that the Internet has profoundly changed our daily behavior. We use the web to purchase and sell products, acquire information, view television shows and movies, purchase music, search for entertainment, participate in political processes, and as a means of communication. Convenient access to the Internet is almost universal, especially among students. The cost of high-speed computer access has dramatically dropped as has the cost of personal computers, laptops, Tablets and Smart Phones, with most Canadian youth having access to one or more of these products. Texting has replaced telephone conversations and youth are spending more and more time on these wireless devices. The ease of access and widespread broadband coverage has resulted in individuals being readily connected/wired to the Internet virtually 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

One of the biggest changes to the way people have engaged with the Internet over the last few years has been in the growth of social networking and user generated websites. The term ‘social media’ best describes the technologies, platforms and methods in which users share content online. Social networking websites provide a unique platform for users to engage with each other in multiple forms including text, images, videos, audio, and increasingly, games. The largest social networking site, Facebook, has nearly a billion users (584 million daily users and 604 million users accessing Facebook via mobile devices). Interestingly, Facebook comprises less than 30% of the unique visitors to the hundreds of popular social networks worldwide, suggesting the enormity of social networking platforms.

While social media gaming is barely four years old, it represents a growing and lucrative industry. Unlike traditional computerized games, social games are primarily driven by community rather than strategy and don’t necessarily have an ultimate objective or goal that represents the completion of a stage or the game, but generate user rewards based on time and effort as opposed to skill. These games are also highly accessible, simple to learn and play, tend not to require specific software, and can be played in very short time increments, as well as lengthy installments. Game genres are many including casino style games.

With respect to play-for-fun casino-style games, at first examination many of these games aren’t too different from traditional online gambling sites. Both typically focus on the “entertainment value,” appealing to a widely diverse audience, incorporating both high tech graphics and representations as well as simpler graphics suitable for lower-tech devices, they are engaging, and facilitate interaction amongst the players. Such games are typically free to play (although players can generally opt to purchase additional virtual credits or improve the game experience with real money) and players are encouraged to continue to play for non-cash promotional prizes, with a growing number of sites actually including the possibility to win cash prizes. Social games and social gaming companies are quickly being acquired by Internet gambling sites and gambling manufacturers. As more and more social games incorporate elements of gambling into game play and players are able to purchase credits, the distinction between the two activities is becoming increasingly blurred.

There is also a growing body of research suggesting that youth are particularly attracted to Internet wagering. The proposed study, a review of the existing literature, is designed to more clearly articulate our current knowledge of the overlap between play-for-fun gambling and actual gambling. This review can be best described as an important precursor to a future study examining the playing and gambling behavior of our youth. This type of research has important implications from a social regulatory policy perspective and is expected to help provide valuable information to improve our youth prevention programs.


Derevensky, J.L. & Gainsbury, S.M. (2015). Social casino gaming and
          adolescents: Should we be concerned and is regulation in sight?
          International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 44, 1-6. 

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