Medill professor’s study: Online ‘gaming’ perceived as less shady than ‘gambling’

Joseph Diebold, Campus Editor

Differences in how companies label online betting may determine consumer perceptions of the activity, according to a new study co-authored by a Northwestern professor.

Medill Prof. Ashlee Humphreys joined Cornell University Prof. Kathryn LaTour in publishing “Framing the Game: Assessing the Impact of Cultural Representations on Consumer Perceptions of Legitimacy,” which looks at the difference in consumers’ perceptions of online betting based on whether it is referred to in media as “gaming” or “gambling.” The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

The authors found the word “gambling” is often associated with crime but “gaming” is thought of as more innocent. Humphreys and LaTour cite online game company Zynga as one example of a company that offers casino-style gaming but has managed to reframe its brand away from gambling.

“One important aspect of legitimating online gambling is strategically reframing it from crime and toward some other legitimating institution, as lotteries have done through their association with state education, or land casinos have done by positioning themselves with theme parks,” they wrote. “It had been assumed that the reigning US casino industry would lead the online gambling industry if it became legalized. However, reframing online gambling may mean redefining the institutions involved.”

The study also notes that some casino organizations have drawn criticism for using “gaming” to mislead their customers.

“The American Gaming Association (AGA) has been criticized for aligning themselves with ‘gaming’ rather than ‘gambling,’” the authors write. “Critics claim that this name change makes gambling appear more recreational. Indeed, our media analysis found that gaming is used more often in entertainment contexts than in crime stories.”

The authors examined media coverage over the last three decades in The New York Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.

— Joseph Diebold