Watch any grainy black and white newsreel footage of sporting events and a few things strike you. Firstly, people used to wear hats a lot more in the old days than they do now. But perhaps more importantly, you soon realise that almost everybody watching is male. Whether it’s a football match, a race meet or motorsports, the spectators and those gambling on it were almost exclusively men.

Thankfully these days things are different. Go to any sports event and crowds are split more equally along gender lines. Gambling, once the sole preserve of the man, has also become a lot more inclusive. In fact, the results of our new survey appropriately called He Plays, She plays show that the line is split 56.2% men and 43.8% women.

Our survey, carried out in January 2016, asked a series of questions of 1,000 people who had gambled online within the last month. The participants were selected from various different regions across the UK in order to provide an accurate and representative spread of results.

However, as well as finding that almost as many women gamble online as men, our survey also dug a little deeper, revealing some of the more interesting and surprising facts about the gambling habits of the genders. 

After studying the data, we have discovered seven of the most fascinating differences between how men and women gamble online.

For men, the most popular way to gamble online is, perhaps not surprisingly, sports betting. It seems that although we’ve come along way since the be-hatted male hordes at major sporting events, the allure of the big occasion and putting a few quid on it is still a very male occupation.

Of the 1,000 asked in the survey, 73% of men said they preferred to bet on sports when playing online. Coming in second was the similarly competitive online poker with 29.18%, with 28.65% of men playing the more fun and friendly bingo in the last month. 

For women gamblers, online bingo was the most popular way to play, with just under 60% of respondents having played in the last month. However, it seems that women too have developed a passion for the competitive side of online gambling, with sports betting being preferred by over 40% of the surveyed female players. Coming in third place was online slots with 34%. 

Roulette is played by a small number of people, with again men favouring this kind of gambling - nearly 27% play compared to just 19% of women. For blackjack there is a similar divide, with 23% of men to just 18% of women playing in the last month. The trend is reversed for slots. As we mentioned above, it’s the third most popular game for women players at 34% but just 26.5% of men play regularly. Conversely, nearly 30% men play poker compared with just under 20% of women. 

It is the increasing number of female gamblers taking an interest in sports betting that has been the driving force behind it cementing its place as the king of online gambling. Overall, 58.5% of online gamblers regularly bet on sporting events. 

Which games do gamblers play regularly?

However, also of interest is that the increasing numbers of men playing online bingo (which has traditionally been seen by some as a more female friendly game) has made it the second most popular form on online gambling in the UK, with 42.2% of players regularly getting their virtual eyes down. Online slots is the third most popular game with around 29.8%. 

Of course, it’s not just gender that affects the stats. We also have to consider age as a major factor in determining which games are favoured. Online poker is preferred by the younger 25-34 generation (the competitive nature of youth playing its part). Whereas sports betting is most favoured by players over 55, with 70% of this age bracket playing (perhaps a sign that the wisdom, experience and knowledge that comes with age is being put to good use).

Motivation - Why do the different genders play online?

The survey asked players to give reasons why they gamble online. Respondents got to choose reasons from a list, ticking the boxes if they felt they applied to them. The options were: for the social aspect, to make money, for the thrill, to win, to have fun, and to relieve boredom.

What the results tell us makes for interesting reading. Far from being a gender divide amongst the reasons for playing, in almost every category the results for both male and female players were almost identical.

Why do gamblers play online?

For example, 54.9% of female and 56.6% of male respondents said they played to make money. 51.8% of female and 54.4% of male players said they were in it to win it. 22.5% of women and 19.4% of men gambled because they were bored and only 5% more men (25.7%) said that they played for the thrill of it. So it seems that while women might be from Venus and men from Mars, they both like to gamble for almost exactly the same reasons. 

Rather than being a surprising difference in habits, this is a case of it being an even more unexpected similarity. It turns out we’re all motivated by the same underlying forces. 

However, motivation can also be affected by a number of other reasons. Economic prosperity and even geographic location can affect why people play. For example, bingo is significantly more popular in Wales (52%) than it is in Scotland (35%). However, far more people north of the border prefer to sports gamble (65%) than in the East Midlands (just 47%).

Risk – How the different genders would react to a big win?

Of course, despite the different motivations for playing, the end goal is always the same: to win. But part of the skill of gambling is knowing how to react when your numbers do come up. So the survey asked participants what they would do if they won £500. 

Overall, more than two thirds would cash in the winnings immediately, but when we break down this into genders, a gap starts to appear. Women are more naturally cautious (or perhaps sensible?) with 72.3% saying they would cash in a £500 win. This compares to only 61% of men.

If you won £500, what would you with it?

Only 9% of women would use the cash to try and win even bigger, compared to 13% of men. When we look at the age demographic for this question, it reveals that the young are more risk inclined, with 15% of 25-34 olds willing to reinvest straight away. Those over 55 were the most cautious (it’s the old competiveness versus experience divide again).

Location – The most unusual places you’ve ever gambled?

When asked about the most unusual places they gambled, perhaps the survey’s most interesting (and perhaps controversial) results were thrown up. Again, strikingly, the results were very similar for both sexes here, proving once more that gambling highlights more of the underlying human similarities between the sexes than the difference between them.

23% of women and 27.2% of men gambled in the bathroom (we’re going to politely assume this means while in the bath rather than while doing anything else). Around 10% of both sexes had gambled while in hospital (well there’s not much else to do really, is there?). 

What are the most usual places you've ever played online gambling games?

Shockingly about 8% of both men and women had gambled while driving in their car. While this kind of behaviour is not to be condoned under any circumstances, it is interesting that a small but similar amount of both sexes is willing to risk theirs and other people’s safety to play on the road.

A gap does open up between the sexes when it comes to gambling at family events, including weddings and even funerals. On 8.4% of women said they would use this opportunity to gamble, compared to 12.6% of men. The fairer sex, being more in tune emotionally, is less likely to switch off during an important occasion. 

Both sexes are equally as culpable when it comes to gambling using other people’s accounts, with around a third of both men and women admitting to having a sneaky game or two on a friend or spouse’s account. Let that be a reminder to always close your account and keep your passwords safe and secure. You never know who could be taking advantage.

Loyalty – How many different websites do you use to gamble?

Understanding brand loyalty is like the Philosopher’s Stone for digital marketing people. If they could fully get to grips with why we choose and remain customers of certain sites, the world would perhaps be very different. They could start by examining the difference between the genders.

The results of the survey found that most women stay loyal to just one gambling website (over 35%), closely followed by women varying between two websites (31%). This order is reversed for men, with over 33% of men play on two sites, followed by 29% of players using just one site.

How many different websites do you use to gamble on?

However, encouragingly for the marketing gurus, it turns out that both men and women like to stick to what they know. Less than ten per cent of each gender regularly plays on more than six sites.

Spending – How much do men and women spend online gambling?

This is perhaps the biggest and most important question in the survey, sneakily hidden a little way down the list to encourage participants to open up and be honest. How much we are willing to spend online gambling is probably the one factor that influences all the others (it always comes down to money). And it’s here that the biggest differences between men and women are revealed.

The results showed that 51.8% of women spend between one and ten pounds a week, compared to just 35.9% of men. In the £11 to £20 bracket, the numbers have reversed to 19% for women and 25.4% for men. 

This swing is then repeated in all the remaining spending brackets, with men always willing to spend more than women. In the £101 to £250 a week bracket we find just 2.2% of women and 3.56% of men. And more than twice as many men spend more than £500 a week then women. 

How much money do you spent a week

So, while almost as many women now gamble as men, males are more likely to spend more money. This is a fascinating and important difference and one of the key findings of our study.

Another Gambling Commission report from 2012 entitled Exploring Social Gambling: Scoping, Classification and Evidence Review found evidence that the social aspects of gambling can also affect risk. It said: ‘Social characteristics of social gambling may increase motivation to participate due to the opportunity to display ones gaming skills to others via social networks.’ [5]


So, what have these various differences and similarities taught us about the way men and women gamble in the UK? Perhaps most importantly we have learned that the days of almost exclusively male gambling and betting are over. When future generations look back at today, they’ll see a much more even spread of the sexes involved in sports and betting.

We have also learned that there is a difference in the type of games men and women play but that this gap is rapidly closing. This may in part be fuelled by both sexes being motivated in almost exactly the same way – one of the most surprising conclusions we can draw. 

Perhaps as expected, we see that men are more inclined to take risks and much more likely to gamble large sums of money than women. When they do win big, the chances are greater that they will attempt to carry on their streak. But they are also more likely to have a strategy in place than rely on luck and even prayer.

We now know that brand loyalty is more appealing to women and that both sexes like to stick to the sites they are more familiar with. We also know that if your other half is spending lots of time in the bathroom, they’re probably in their gambling, and that the man at the back of the funeral is one his phone placing a bet. 

But perhaps the most important lesson we can take from any of the results of this comprehensive survey is that it is never a good idea to gamble while driving.