Research firm Greenfield Online found that even though a third of the 1,000 respondents in its study had visited an online gambling site, only 13 percent had actually opened an account and wagered. The reason, according to Greenfield, is that more than 50 percent said they were concerned about the safety of their money and whether they could actually claim any winnings.
The Wilton, Conn.-based company said the comfort level with online gambling would grow if well-known, established casinos handled the sites. Close to half of the 1,000 participants in the survey said they would prefer an online gambling site headed by a traditional casino.
The reality, however, is that overseas owners run a majority of the estimated 1,400 online gambling sites, and online gamblers have no way to identify whether the sites are legitimate.
Because many gambling sites are offshore, it's almost impossible to discover not only the country where the sites are coming from, but how authentic they are, said Gail Janensch, a spokeswoman for Greenfield. Offshore casino holders aiming to attract online gamblers need to show that they have a "seal of approval" such as membership to a trade association that validates them or use of a recognized service provider to pay for the winnings, she added.
The findings come as the fate of online gambling remains uncertain. Last month, Nevada lawmakers passed a bill that would eventually clear the way for Internet gambling run by casinos in the state.
The U.S. government, however, argues that online gambling is illegal under a 1961 federal act that prohibits bets placed via phone lines and other wired devices. On Tuesday, members of Congress met to consider the fourth Net gambling bill this year aimed at banning the practice.
While legislative issues surrounding Web gambling continue, so, too, does people's distrust of online gambling sites. Many consumers, Janensch said, are afraid to give their credit card numbers or fear that if they win something, they won't get their winnings.
Of Greenfield's participants, 42 percent said they would rather gamble in person than on the Web. In addition, 20 percent said they believe online gambling is not as safe as offline gambling. Only 4 percent said they were willing to wager $100 or more online. But 24 percent said they would be willing to gamble that much at an offline casino.
The study shows "there is tremendous opportunity for the traditional American offline casino to capture a significant portion of those who have an interest in online gambling," Janensch said. "They're going to presumably have a runaway success."
The study, conducted in June, surveyed participants who have been surfing the Web for two or more years. The online games that were most popular, according to the study, were slot machines, blackjack and video poker. The most popular sites that respondents selected included Golden Palace Online Casino, Lucky Nugget Online Casino, Casino on Net and 7 Sultans Casino.