In Excess

Gambling, Gaming and Extreme Behavior

Tapping into the App Gap

The psychosocial impact of gambling applications

Most regular gamblers will be well aware that technology is revolutionizing the way they can gamble and access gambling. One of the most notable innovations has been the proliferation of various gambling applications (‘apps’) for smartphones and computer tablets. A majority of the British bookmakers have launched sports betting apps including Betfred Mobile Sportsbook, William Hill iPhone, Ladbrokes Mobile, Betfair iPhone Client, and Paddy Power Mobile. Most of the apps allow sports bettors to gamble via their mobile phones and/or tablets (e.g., iPad) with all the same options that gamblers can get offline, and additionally keep track of the bets made. Combined with this, many operators have introduced iPhone compatible websites. Bookmakers have also launched similar apps and services for Android (i.e., non-Apple) products (e.g., Unibet’s mobile sports betting app). In short, mobile sports betting has gone mainstream.


There are also apps for games like Fantasy Football (such as the one offered by Betfred) but most gambling operators are moving into the mobile social betting market because it provides greater flexibility in predicting score lines and by making it easier to share the result outcomes with friends. Such services include Unibet Social Betting, SideBets Social BETworking, Bodugi Social Betting, King of Predictions, and Bet Tracker Pro. Gamblers also have access to a wide range of betting tips and betting odds apps via both iPhone and Android handsets. Gambling apps can also provide access to potentially useful information for the player (e.g., tips, strategy articles, the latest updates, etc.). In addition to he bookmaking industry, casino operators have followed suit and have also moved into the gambling app market on both iPhone and Android.

Once casino apps have been installed, players can instantly access their favourite casinos and casino games without searching for them via a web browser. A quick look at the commercially available gambling apps shows that almost all gaming operators offer attractive bonuses in an attempt to attract new clientele to download their gambling app software and spend some money (e.g., first deposit bonuses, reload bonuses, and various other seasonal promotions). The psychosocial impact of real money gambling apps is likely become a hot topic among those of us who carry out research in the gambling studies field.

As with online gambling more generally, the introduction of gambling apps and mobile gambling eliminates time and place constraints, allows 24/7 access all year round, provides convenience and flexibility, provides a wide range of games (e.g., slots, blackjack, video poker, roulette, etc.) and potentially increased gambling opportunities, and means that anyone can gamble anywhere at anytime providing there is network connection. Real money gambling apps arguably make gambling even easier for players. Whilst there are clearly many advantages for gamblers, these advantages may have a negative psychosocial impact on a small minority of gamblers.

The gambling app market is likely to be very lucrative for both game developers and gaming operators. In a recent report by Juniper Research, it was estimated that users of smartphones and tablets are expected to wager $100 billion annually on the devices by 2017, up from about $20 billion in 2011. However, Juniper Networks' Mobile Threat Centre also reported that gambling apps pose the biggest security risk to smartphone users after over 1.7 million apps on the Google Play Store were analyzed between March 2011 and September 2012. Another study by German researchers at the Leibniz University (Hannover) and the Philipps University (Marburg) found that apps (including gambling apps) were leaking personal data, including bank account information. The study tested the 13,500 most popular free apps from the Google Play Store and found that 1074 of them (8%) used incorrect or inadequate coding. These studies also found that the gambling apps “blatantly overstepped permissions that were more than adequate for normal use” and that with malware they accessed a number of features of the users’ smartphones and tablets without justification. Racing apps were reported as causing the most concern with 99% of paid racing apps and 92% of free racing game apps being able to send SMS; half of free downloaded apps were able to use the camera; and 94 per cent of free games could make outgoing phone calls.

From a psychosocial impact perspective, one of the areas where gambling apps appear to be having most impact currently is in relation to in-play betting. For instance, Bet365 (the most successful gaming operator in the UK in-play market) have a free betting app that players can use for any of their ‘in-play’ markets (most notably football) from a smartphone. I argued in a previous blog that what the ‘in-play’ markets have done is take what was traditionally a discontinuous form of gambling like football betting – where gamblers made one bet every Saturday on the result of a football game – to one where consumers can gamble again and again and again. What’s more, gaming operators have quickly capitalized on the increasing amount of televised sport. In contemporary society, where there is a live sporting event, there will always be a betting consumer. ‘In-play’ betting companies using gambling apps have catered for both the natural betting demand and have initiated new clientele in the process. 

If the reward for gambling only happens once or twice a week, I have argued in my writings with both Jonathan Parke and Michael Auer it is almost completely impossible for a gambler to develop problems and/or become addicted. ‘In-play’ betting using gambling apps has changed that because we now have soccer matches on almost every day of the week making a daily 2-hour plus period of betting seven days a week. I have argued in my articles for the gambling trade press that ‘in-play’ has fundamentally changed the way that people view and bet on sporting events. The speed of a game also influences the prevalence of problem gambling. Based on the relationship between event duration, event frequency, bet frequency, and payout interval, empirical research has consistently shown that games that offer a fast, arousing span of play, frequent wins, and the opportunity for rapid replay are those most frequently cited as being associated with problem gambling. These potentially problem-inducing structural characteristics have the capacity to be enhanced via gambling apps and in-play betting. The actual prevalence rate of problem gambling will of course depend on many factors other than speed of the game alone, but games with high and rapid event frequencies are most likely to impact on increased rates of problem gambling. ‘In-play’ betting via gambling apps appears to be an activity that is starting to blur the lines between continuous and discontinuous forms of gambling.

Frequency of opportunities to gamble (i.e., event frequency) appears to be a major contributory factor in the development of gambling problems. The general rule is that the higher the event frequency, the more likely it is that the activity will result in gambling problems for vulnerable and susceptible gamblers. Gambling addiction has been shown to be associated with the rewards, the speed of rewards, and payout rates. Therefore, the more potential rewards there are, and the higher the amount of the rewards, the more problematic the activity is likely to be. Given the time, money and resources, a vast majority of gambling activities are now ‘continuous’ in that people have the potential to gamble again and again. Therefore, in relation to problem gambling, ‘in-play’ betting via gambling apps is an activity that we really need to keep an eye on.

 References and further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Gambling on Facebook? A cause for concern? World Online Gambling Law Report, 11(9), 10-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Mind games (A brief psychosocial overview of in-play betting). i-Gaming Business Affiliate, June/July, 44.

 Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2013). The irrelevancy of game-type in the acquisition, development and maintenance of problem gambling. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 621. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00621.

MacMillan, D. (2012). IPhones Become Mobile Casinos by Adding Real-Money Bets. Bloomberg Business Week, August 16. Located at: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-08-16/iphones-become-mobile...

Manning, J. (2012). Android apps leaking personal, banking details. Stuff, October 23. Located at: http://www.stuff.co.nz/technology/digital-living/7852719/Android-...

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Sharma, M. (2012). Free gambling apps top security risk list. Stuff, November 4. Located at: http://www.stuff.co.nz/technology/digital-living/7904180/Free-gam...

Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit in the Psychology Division at Nottingham Trent University (UK).

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