Sports betting has transformed into “a faster and more harmful gambling mode” akin to gambling on slot machines, so regulators and researchers will need to move quickly to keep up with potential harm, according to a recent academic study.
Gambling on slot machines has traditionally been considered to have the highest potential for gambling addiction or other harm due to rapid play and enticements that encourage impulse behaviour.
But the shift from betting at physical sites to betting online or via smartphone apps has altered the scene to supply quick, all-hours access and increased risk, researchers argue.
Electronic gaming machines have been studied in depth, as they supply "rapid and continuous play that can lead to immersion, short payout intervals", progressive jackpots that encourage lengthy play and "near misses", according to the study of literature published between 2015 and 2022.
The study was published in Addiction Research and Theory on July 31.
Traditional sports betting — betting on your favourite team to win — does not share many characteristics with slots, the researchers said.
But advances in online sports-betting products such as in-play or micro-bets mean betting is increasingly adopting characteristics similar to gambling machines.
That is, it is “instantly accessible, provides rapid and continuous betting opportunities, and offers user-interactivity via features such as ‘cash-out’ and the ability to instantly deposit funds”, the researchers wrote.
“The awareness that online sports betting is constantly available just a few clicks away may also operate as an environmental cue amongst disordered gamblers that triggers a return to multiple online sports betting sessions throughout the day.”
“With mobile sports betting, you’re never not in a casino,” University of California, Los Angeles psychiatry professor Timothy Fong told Men’s Health magazine in its September issue. “You’re there unless you’re completely cut off.”
Since 2018, both the US and Canada have removed federal bans on most forms of sports betting.
In-play bets take place once the game has started, with odds shifting based on events.
Micro-bets are placed at short intervals, such as on the next serve in tennis.
Researchers have found both have characteristics associated with disordered gambling, the academics said.
Customized sports bets — that is, tailored to customer preferences — contribute to a perception that a sports bettor can use sports-related knowledge to their advantage, the researchers said.
But the study cited a researcher suggesting that they might be more accurately called “pseudo skills-based” as they are offered at high bookmaker margins, which mean a long run of bettor success is unlikely.
Cash-out features also offer an illusion of control, as they are typically offered at a cost, adding to bookmaker margins. They also free cash for the bettor to wager again, the study said.
Instant deposits coupled with delayed withdrawals can also contribute to the potential for problem gambling.
Developments in sports betting often move fast, while academic research and regulatory change takes time.
Researchers could consider methods such as examining utility patents, which are usually granted before a specific product or process is introduced, and could supply insight into upcoming developments, the researchers said.
Such patents suggest that future advances could include peer-to-peer competitive elements, augmented or virtual reality, or highly specific notifications; that is, enticements to bet delivered in timely fashion, the study said.
“It is likely that the harms associated with the digital transformation of sports betting will continue to emerge via innovative advancements if regulatory intervention is not appropriate or forward-looking,” the researchers said.
The UK-based authors of the study are Jamie Torrance and Janine Carroll of the University of Chester, Marie O'Hanrahan of the University of Cardiff and Philip Newall of the University of Bristol.