For those of us who watch soccer on the television in the UK, it is almost impossible to watch a game without seeing the many gambling adverts alerting us to the fact we can now bet on over 60-70 ‘in-play’ markets while watching the game. Should I wish to, I can bet on everything from who is going to score the first goal, what the score will be after 30 minutes of play, how many yellow cards will be given during them game and/or in what minute of the second half will the first free kick be awarded.

What the in-play markets have done is take what was traditionally a discontinuous form of gambling – where you make one bet every Saturday on the result of the game – to one where you can gamble again and again and again. You cannot become addicted to something unless you are constantly being rewarded. If the reward only happens once or twice a week, it’s impossible to become addicted. In-play has changed that.

In-play betting is something that many of us in the problem gambling field are keeping an eye on because it’s taken something that has traditionally been a non-problem form of gambling to something that is more akin to betting on horse racing. 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. When considering speed and frequency of gambling in relation to problem gambling, concepts such as event duration, event frequency and payout interval can often be misunderstood and applied in the wrong context. Often, these are mistaken for having the same meaning. Furthermore, concepts such bet frequency and event duration are often ignored despite their importance of their role in the speed and frequency of betting. All of these terms refer to slightly different aspects of gambling although they are all implicated factors that affect speed and frequency.

Event duration essentially refers to how fast the ‘event’ is (i.e., the speed of a gambling activity such as a reel spin on a slot machine that typically lasts for a few seconds). Professor Alex Blaszczynski and his colleagues at the University of Sydney (Australia) noted that gamblers prefer faster speeds and find fast speeds while playing more enjoyable. Therefore, they argued that gamblers' motivation to play could encourage more persistent gambling activity. Another study by Professor Ladouceur and Dr. Serge Sevigny at the University of Laval (Quebec, Canada) investigated the effects of slot machine game speed on concentration, motivation to play, loss of control, and number of games played on people randomly assigned to either a high-speed (5 seconds) or a low-speed (15 seconds) gambling condition. Their results showed that high-speed gamblers played more games and underestimated the number of games played more than low-speed gamblers. However, speed didn’t influence concentration, motivation, or loss of control over time or money. Despite many methodological limitations they concluded that speed had limited impact on occasional slot machine gamblers.

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. The actual prevalence rate of problem and pathological gambling will of course depend on many other factors than speed of the game alone, but games with high and rapid event frequencies are most likely to impact on increased rates of problem and pathological gambling. In-play betting 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) also 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. Addictive behaviours have been shown to be associated with the rewards and 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 "continuous" in that people have the potential to gamble again and again. Therefore, in relation to problem gambling, in-play betting is an activity that we really need to keep an eye on.

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