Sports Betting Via Smartphones

The future of sports gambling is already here

Posted Jun 01, 2016

It is often claimed by marketeers that remote gambling makes commercial sense (i.e., the combining of gambling and remote technologies such as the internet and mobile phones into one convenient package). Mobile phone betting and gambling not only provides convenience and flexibility, but perhaps more importantly from a gaming operator’s perspective, provides gambling on the move, whenever and wherever. Since it is somewhat unnatural to always be near a computer, it could be argued that mobile phones are an ideal medium for betting and gambling. Whenever gamblers have a few minutes to spare (at the airport, commuting to work, waiting in a queue, etc.), they can occupy themselves by gambling.

Conventional wisdom says that two things have the power to drive any new consumer technology - pornography and gambling. These activities helped satellite and cable television, video, and the Internet and provide adult entertainment in a convenient and guilt-free environment. Betting via smartphone is no different. Along with pornography, gambling should have little trouble reaching profitability – especially if this is combined with sports events. Sports interest is huge. There are thousands of communities (including those online). The most successful of those communities will look to ‘mobilize’ and then ‘monetise’. The growth of fantasy sports in the US and elsewhere is an obvious example.

The mobile phone/smartphone industry has grown rapidly in the last decade. Market research highlights that mobile phone revenues from mobile gambling and gaming is increasingly rapidly. Although mobile gaming revenues are increasing, it is estimated that less than 5% of mobile industry revenue is generated by gambling. It was generally thought that lottery gambling would make most money for mobile gambling operators because governments are generally less censorious about lotteries than other forms of gambling. They are also easy to play and relatively low cost compared to other types of gambling. But that may not be the case.

To some extent, the majority of gamblers are risk-takers to begin with. Therefore, they may be less cautious with new forms of technology. For every day gamblers, smartphones are ideal for bet placing, and gamblers will be able to check on their bets, and place new ones. Furthermore, it is anonymous, and can provide immediate gratification, anytime, anywhere. Anonymity and secrecy may be potential benefits of mobile gambling as for a lot of people there is still stigma attached to gambling in places like betting shops and casinos. Mobile sports betting is also well suited to personal (i.e., one-to-one) gambling, where users bet against each other rather than bookies. The rise of online betting exchanges demonstrate that people bet on anything and everything to do with sport (with each other).

Mobile phone technology has improved exponentially over the last decade and mobile phone graphics and technology (as well as tablets) can now compete with Internet web browsers. Intuitively, mobile phone gambling is best suited for sports and event betting. With mobile phone betting, all that is required is real-time access to data about the event to be bet on (e.g., a horse race, a soccer match, a tennis match), and the ability to make a bet in a timely fashion.

These basic requirements are, of course, easily be provided by the current generation of smartphones, and the appropriate software. The placing of the bet is not the driving motivation in event wagering. Since being the spectator is what sports fans are really interested in, the sports gambler does not need fulfillment from the process of gambling. People betting on sports will use smartphones because they are easy, convenient and take no time to boot up. Once they have their sports book registered as a bookmark on their phone, they can access it and place a bet within a very short space of time.

As I have noted in my previous blogs, all forms of gambling lie on a chance-skill dimension. Neither games of pure skill nor games of pure chance are particularly attractive to sports bettors. Games of chance (like lotteries) offer no significant edge to sports bettors and are unlikely to be gambled upon. Serious gamblers gravitate towards types of gambling that provide an appropriate mix of chance and skill. This is one of the reasons why sports betting – and in particular activities like horse race betting – is so popular for gamblers. The edge available in horse race gambling can be sufficient to fully support professional gamblers as they bring their wide range of knowledge to the activity. There is the complex interplay of factors that contributes to the final outcome of the race. However, in the mobile sports betting market in the UK, it is likely to be soccer that will make the big money for sports betting agencies. In the US it is more likely to be basketball, baseball and [American] football.

Consider the following scenario. A betting service that knows where you are and/or what you are doing has the capacity to suggest something context-related to the mobile user to bet on. For instance, if the mobile phone user bought a ticket for a soccer match using an electronic service, this service may share this information with a betting company. If in that match the referee gives a penalty for one team, a person’s mobile could ring and give the user an opportunity (on screen) to bet whether or not the penalty will be scored. On this type of service, the mobile phone user will only have to decide if they want to bet, and if they do, the amount of money. Two clicks and the bet will be placed. Context, timeliness, simplicity, and above all user involvement look like enough to convince also people that never entered a bet-shop.

Many British soccer clubs are turning themselves into powerful media companies. They have their own digital TV channel and signed up a host of big-name technology partners. Such companies will get the chance to develop co-branded mobile services with the club. This offers users access to content similar to their website (receiving real-time scores and team news via SMS). While watching matches, users will be able to view statistics, player biographies, and order merchandise. Such mobility will facilitate an increase in ‘personalized’ gambling where bettors gamble against each other, rather than the house.

Gambling will (if it is not already) become part of the match day experience. A typical scenario might involve a £10 bet with a friend on a weekend soccer match. The gambler can text their friend via SMS and log on to the betting service to make their gamble. If the friend accepts, the gambler has got the chance to win (or lose). Soccer clubs will get a share of the profits from the service. Clubs are keen to get fans using branded mobile devices where they can simply hit a ‘bet’ button and place a wager with the club's mobile phone partner.

As with all new forms of technological gambling, ease of use is paramount to success. Smartphones have become more user-friendly. Pricing structures are also important. Internet access and mobile phone use that is paid for by the minute produces very different customer behavior to those that have one off payment fees (e.g., unlimited use and access for a monthly rental fee). The latter payment structure facilitates leisure use, as gamblers would not be worried that for every extra minute they are online, they are increasing the size of their phone bills. For me, mobile sports betting is the future of mobile gambling and is already here

References and further reading

Billieux, J., Maurage, P., Lopez-Fernandez, O., Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Can disordered mobile phone use be considered a behavioral addiction? An update on current evidence and a comprehensive model for future research. Current Addiction Reports, 2, 154-162.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Mobile phone gambling: Preparing for take off. World Online Gambling Law Report, 8(3), 6-7.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). The psychosocial impact of mobile phone gambling. World Online Gambling Law Report, 4 (10), 14-15.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The psychology of sports betting: What should affiliates know? i-Gaming Business Affiliate, August/September, 46-47.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Mobile sportsbetting: A view from the social sciences. i-Gaming Business, 69, 64-65.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Technological trends remote gambling: A psychological perspective. i-Gaming Business, 71, 39-40.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Adolescent mobile phone addiction: A cause for concern? Education and Health, 31, 76-78

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Mobile phone gambling. In D. Taniar (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Mobile Computing and Commerce (pp.553-556). Pennsylvania: Information Science Reference.

Lopez-Fernandez, O., Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., & Billieux, J. (2015). The conceptualization and assessment of problematic mobile phone use. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Mobile Phone Behavior (Volumes 1, 2, & 3) (pp. 591-606). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.