With student help, business department
launches gambling research project © Feb. 19, 2010, Norwich University Office of Communications

Norwich students are encouraged to participate in study of how people use online gambling games.

©iStockphoto.com/pixhookNorwich students are encouraged to participate in study of how people use online gambling games.

Texas Hold ’Em is so 2008.

At Norwich University, the hot way to gamble is through eCasinoLand, a student-only slot machine website offering more than $3,000 in prize money. Every student starts with 500 free credits. If their luck turns sour, they can earn more by giving volunteer hours.

“It’s pretty fun,” said freshman Ryan Pudlowski. “The way they have it set up, there are four rooms you can gamble in and they’re named after four different buildings on campus.”

Students choose a $1-, 50- or 25-cent bet in credits before spinning. “I’ve probably spun it close to 500 times,” said Pudlowski, who has 515 credits after many ups and downs. “It’s pretty addicting.”

While eCasinoLand is a fun game for students, it is also a serious research project conducted by Business Management Prof. William Jolley and other Norwich faculty. Students are told upon registration that they are participating in a study of the ways people use Internet gambling sites. The research project, which was approved by the Norwich University Human Subjects in Research Committee, focuses on consumer behavior. Games are a mechanism to collect data to study psychological and neuropsychological theories.

The mechanism could be anything—L.L. Bean catalogs or World of Warcraft-style multiplayer online games—Jolley explained. Gambling was a good fit for Norwich because college-aged students would welcome a chance to win money and are likely to gamble more than other population groups.

Jolley began this research while working on his doctoral thesis at the University of Western Australia in Perth. When he set out to conduct research at Norwich, he turned to students for help. From the student body, Jolley recruited James Ward, a sophomore Information Security major from Sarasota, Fla., and Nate Roeder, a junior from Keene, N.H., who studies business management.

Ward updated the computer code for the website, transforming some complicated ideas into a usable, reliable interface. He came highly recommended when Jolley was searching campus for assistance.

Ward is mostly a self-taught computer programmer, and he said he learned some time management skills while working on eCasinoLand. He spent much of his winter break working on the project, and rushed to iron out minor problems before the February 2010 launch of the site.

“It’s good for my resume,” said Ward. “I am being monetarily compensated, which I’m happy about. I like to be able to help people out with these kinds of things.”

Jolley called him a tremendous help.

“Our student skill level was able to do what commercial providers do,” said Jolley. “We had gone outside to some commercial vendors. What James is doing is better and quicker and more confidential and proprietary than if we were using commercial vendors ... They told me, ‘You’ve got a good resource there [in Ward].’”

It is important that contributors maintain strict confidentiality about the details of the research to maintain data integrity. Secrecy must be maintained until the site is shut down and prize money awarded at the end of summer.

Roeder also proved to be a valuable team member. Prior to Norwich, Roeder was a big fan of online gambling. He also has played cards for as long as he can remember. “At family events, we played cribbage and scat and poker,” he said. “It was a great way to socialize and have fun.”

He never thought his gambling experience would prove useful to his education, but that’s precisely what happened. Roeder met Jolley as a student in his class in the fall 2009 semester.

“As I got to know [Jolley] a little better, we got to talking about some of the research he’s done. That sparked an opportunity for me,” he said. “I jumped at the opportunity to be able to work with him.”

Roeder strategized ways to make the game more appealing to students, including a suggestion to spread the prize money out over a larger group of winners, rather than consolidate it among top competitors. “People have a better chance of winning money,” he said. “I think that will mean we will have more students playing.”

Roeder also proposed putting up a leader board to tap into students’ competitiveness and let them know where they stand in the rankings.

Beginning in the fall, Jolley will begin data analysis. He will be looking for relationships between betting behavior and risk predictors, and he may conduct further research with some of the students who demonstrated high-risk behavior.

Roeder plans to apply for one of Norwich’s summer research grants, and hopes to use data collected through eCasinoLand.

“I always imagined in a lot of graduate programs, older students and professors would be conducting this kind of research,” said Roeder. “I didn’t realize this happened on the undergraduate level, and that undergraduate students could work with professors on research. It’s pretty exciting that this stuff can be published.”