Gambling vs Gaming

Watching the wheel spinningWords have power. When writing about a topic or subject the use of certain words can trigger a positive or negative reaction in the reader. For example some writers use online gambling when writing about the topic while others use the term gaming. A study done at Cornell shows how the use of words shapes the attitude of the consumer. Kathy LaTour, associate professor of services marketing at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, and Ashlee Humphreys of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, wrote “Changing an industry label from gambling to gaming affects what consumers, especially nonusers, think of betting online. A label like gaming prompts all sorts of implicit associations like entertainment and fun, while a label like gambling can prompt seedier implicit associations like crime.”

The study is available online and will be published in the December issue of the journal of Consumer Research. LaTour and Humphreys analyzed the descriptions of online, lottery and casino gambling in three newspapers; The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. They analyzed the coverage of ‘Black Friday’ when the government seized the domains and assets of three popular online poker sites. Newspapers described online poker as a crime that shift in consumer judgments about the validity of online gambling, especially among non gamblers.

The authors detected a clear pattern. Lotteries and casinos were seen as legitimate businesses but people associated online gambling with crime and a lack of regulations. The authors also conducted two experiments. They found that “rags-to-riches” narratives garnered more favorable attitudes while “get-rich-quick” narratives produced negative reactions. To further test their theory the authors changed one word in the narratives, gambling or gaming, and found that the use of the word gaming caused nonusers to see online gaming as more legitimate.

LaTour stated “We found that how you label an industry really matters. This is especially true for nonusers or individuals who are not as familiar with the industry. “There is great promise for using theories and methods from linguistics and rhetoric to understand consumer behavior. Labeling can equally work in the interest of opponents to an industry. Consider the case of fracking. Although industry actors have searched for a replacement term, the practice of extracting energy from below the earth’s surface has become known as fracking, which carries with it rhetorical connotations of fracturing naturally existing rock.” The study was funded by Cornell, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Northwestern University.

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