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Selling hope: A brief look at the advertising of online sports betting

(Please note that this article was co-written with Dr. Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez).

Marketing strategies are essential in a market environment such as online sports betting wherein product differentiation is minimal and price inelasticity robust. Business insiders widely accept that product innovation is instantly replicated across competitors, which are permanently seeking to generate, so far unfruitfully, a disruptive competitive edge. In a context where the number of licensed bookmakers is constantly growing, advertising plays a big part in luring customers who cannot tell the difference between companies. Advertising and marketing spend on sports betting has increased exponentially over the last five years in Europe and that is mirrored on the exposure to betting commercial messages of sports fans.

For instance, a 2014 report published by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation estimated that viewers of the Australian Football League and the National Rugby League – the two most followed sport codes in Australia – are exposed to 10 to 15 minutes of gambling advertisements per game. Similarly, Dr. Sophie Lindsay and colleagues in a 2013 issue of BMC Public Health looked further into the environmental impact of gambling advertising in sport events. They calculated that in three rugby league matches the public had been exposed to ‘322 episodes’ of betting marketing – for example, considering an episode every time an electronic banner advertised a gambling site – which is somewhat paradoxical given in-play betting is illegal in Australia (as of mid-2016).

Online_Sports_Betting_Australia

One of the marketing tricks is the use of the psychological bias known as the ‘representativeness heuristic’ (coined by Dr. Amos Tversky and Dr. Daniel Kahneman). Imagine the following two betting propositions concerning a soccer game: (a) FC Barcelona will lose the next match against the bottom team in the league (an extremely unlikely event, say 0.01 probability); (b) FC Barcelona will lose the next match against the bottom team in the league but (i.e. AND) Leo Messi will score at least one goal (this one an extremely likely event, for the sake of the argument, 0.99 probability). Mathematically speaking, proposition B can never be a better choice than proposition A, since P(A)=0.01 as opposed to P(B)=0.01×0.99= 0.0099. However, bookmakers understand that Messi scoring a goal is a highly representative event that can be effortlessly be retrieved from memory, transferring the representativeness to the whole betting proposition. In addition, it is plausible that representative heuristics work in conjunction with wishful thinking, overestimating the likelihood of an event based on one’s own preferences, as anecdotal evidence from betting advertisements concerning national teams participating in international competitions appear to suggest.

In a recent paper in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, I and my colleagues (Dr. Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez and Dr. Ana Estevez) discussed two of most utilized master narratives in online betting promotions are discussed, namely skill-enhancing narratives – in which there is an overemphasis on the capacities and knowledge of the bettor – and, at the other end of the spectrum, risk-lowering narratives – which underemphasise the risks involved in betting and typically overestimate the probability of winning.

Skill-enhancing narratives: In a 2016 issue of iGaming Business magazine, Vahe Baloulian, CEO of the betting software company BetConstruct, declared that new features were there to give customers ‘a chance to feel more in control by engaging more often and making decisions’ with ‘feel’ and ‘control’ being the keywords here. The ‘feel’ component refers to a perceived non-factual sensation that lies at the heart of the advertising endeavour. The perception of control over the betting activity has been found to be a common attribute of gambling narratives in Swedish research by Dr. Per Binde, in which elements of skill have been exaggerated, as well as in televised commercials from Canada (in a 2008 paper by John McMullan and Delthia Miller in the Journal of Gambling Issues), wherein betting has been associated with the imagery of media sport communication, skills, and long-meditated strategies, while luck was downplayed.

Many betting features newly added to online platforms are said by commercials to enhance the control of the user over the outcome of the event bet upon, including more gamified experiences (where passive bettors supposedly become players), immersive betting experiences, and fantasy sports (where the player actively recruits a team). In these examples, the betting experience demands a higher involvement from the bettor, arguably resulting in a psychological transference between the active role of a bettor executing actions and the actual influence a bettor’s actions may have on the outcome of an external event. In essence, betting advertising contributes to the myth of gambling as a sport, an activity that is healthy, harmless, and that can be mastered with practice and talent.

Among the most used selling points that enhance the self-efficacy and control of the sports bettor are the narratives of masculinity. Attributes such as loyalty to the team, being a real man, and being brave enough to prove sporting knowledge have been implicit in some sports betting messages, including stereotyped gender depictions and sexualized imagery. According to recent research by Dr. Nerilee Hing and colleagues (in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction), the prototype sports bettor is male, young, tech-savvy, and professional, which aligns with the target audience of betting advertising. This reinforces the idea of male providers that sublimates in gambling their manly instincts for aggression, competition, and combat, as was observed in the behaviour of horserace bettors as identified in early studies.

Risk-lowering advertising: In parallel to the skill-enhancing strategies, advertising diminishes the harmful consequences of excessive betting by representing it as a risk-free activity. The combined narrative would be that of a safe environment where intelligent people possess the tools to succeed. In an attempt to lower the perceived risk inherently embedded in any betting activity, three major messages have been emphasized by advertisers: (i) betting is a perfectly normal activity; (ii) errors in betting predictions are not fatal; and (iii) betting is a social activity.

Advertising has been frequently proposed as a significant mechanism of gambling normalisation including new social media channels (see Dr. Sally Gainsbury and colleagues 2016 research in the Journal of Gambling Studies). The portrayal of gambling attitudes and behaviours in media representations as well as in real life environments promotes the idea of gambling as an intrinsic form of entertainment. This is true for all forms of gambling but sports betting presents some singular intensifiers. Unlike any other gambling form, sport instils in betting its health and sanitization attributes. Attributes such as fair competition, success through talent and perseverance, equal opportunities and big rewards, respect for nature, green and healthy habits are transmitted to betting behaviour. Celebrities deepen that connection as they have been proven to reduce the perceived risk by the public of the products they endorse. Sportspeople tell the story of young, talented risk-takers who challenged the odds but emerged successful in the end, arguably a perfect incarnation of the bettor’s own aspirational narrative.

Another marketing technique broadly employed by betting operators concerns the provision of risk-free bets. Advertisements typically offer welcome bonuses for new customers, free bonuses for loyal clientele, and money-back exceptions in multiple complex accumulated bets. All of these free offers pose a dual threat. On the one hand, the so-called free money requires bettors to engage in further betting in order to reclaim their benefits (leading to money losses in the process). On the other hand, even if it is a bona fide free bonus, problem gamblers might conceptualise betting as a riskless activity that entails no responsibilities even when done excessively.

A third main risk-lowering technique used in commercials is the representation of betting as a social form of entertainment to be conducted alongside other people. Solitary gambling, like solitary drinking, has been thought to be a determinant and/or consequence of problem gambling. However, some studies have raised the alarm about the misconception that gambling, when done in group, cannot be problematic (see the recent work of Emily Deans and her colleagues in ‘Further reading’ below). In fact, peer facilitation has been identified as a fundamental contributing factor to impulse betting, with excessive betting being more plausible when sport matches are viewed in the company of others (as shown by Mattew Lamont and colleagues in a 2016 qualitative study in Sport Management Review). Sport is a cultural product, socially consumed (watched, practiced, discussed, and bet upon). The social stigma attached to gambling habits might be shifting towards its naturalisation, a long-term process that advertising cannot carry out on its own but can certainly facilitate.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Binde, P. (2009). ‘You could become a millionaire’: Truth, deception, and imagination in gambling advertising. In: Kingma S (ed.), Global Gambling: Cultural Perspectives on Gambling Organizations, (pp. 171-194). London: Routledge.

Deans, E.G., Thomas, S.L,. Derevensky, J. & Daube, M. (2017) The influence of marketing on the sports betting attitudes and consumption behaviours of young men: implications for harm reduction and prevention strategies. Harm Reduction Journal, 14(5). doi:10.1186/s12954-017-0131-8.

Deans, E.G., Thomas, S.L,. Daube, M., Derevensky, J., et al. (2016) Creating symbolic cultures of consumption: an analysis of the content of sports wagering advertisements in Australia. BMC Public Health, 16(1), 208.

Deans, E.G., Thomas, S.L,. Daube, M. & Derevensky J (2016) The role of peer influences on the normalisation of sports wagering: a qualitative study of Australian men. Addiction Research & Theory. doi: 10.1080/16066359.2016.1205042.

Gainsbury, S.M., Delfabbro, P., King, D.L., et al. (2016) An exploratory study of gambling operators’ use of social media and the latent messages conveyed. Journal of Gambling Studies, 32, 125–141.

Gordon, R. & Chapman, M. (2014). Brand community and sports betting in Australia. Victoria, Australia: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.

Guerrero-Solé, F., Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Online gambling advertising and the Third-Person Effect: A pilot study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 7(2), 15-30.

Hing, N. (2014). Sports betting and advertising (AGRC Discussion Paper No. 4). Melbourne: Australian Gambling Research Centre.

Hing, N., Lamont, M., Vitartas, P., et al. (2015). Sports-embedded gambling promotions: A study of exposure, sports betting intention and problem gambling amongst adults. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 13(1), 115–135.

Lamont, M., Hing, N. & Vitartas, P. (2016). Affective response to gambling promotions during televised sport: A qualitative analysis. Sport Management Review, 19(3), 319-331.

Lindsay, S., Thomas, S., Lewis, S., et al. (2013) Eat, drink and gamble: marketing messages about ‘risky’ products in an Australian major sporting series. BMC Public Health 13(1), 719.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Estevez, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Marketing and advertising online sports betting: A problem gambling perspective. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 41, 256-272.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. Estevez, A., Jimenez-Murcia, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Alcohol drinking and low nutritional value food eating behaviour of sports bettors in gambling adverts. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, in press.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Is European online gambling regulation adequately addressing in-play betting advertising? Gaming Law Review and Economics, 20, 495-503.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Understanding the convergence of online sports betting markets. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, in press.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). ‘Cashing out’ in sports betting: Implications for problem gambling and regulation. Gaming Law Review and Economics, in press.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H.. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Betting, forex trading, and fantasy gaming sponsorships – A responsible marketing inquiry into the ‘gamblification’ of English football. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, in press.

McMullan, J.L. & Miller, D. (2008). All in! The commercial advertising of offshore gambling on television. Journal of Gambling Issues, 22, 230-251.

Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1983) Extensional versus intuitive reasoning: The conjunction fallacy in probability judgment. Psychological Review, 90(4), 293–315.

Game on: A brief look at gambling on eSports

Like daily fantasy sports, betting on eSports (i.e., professional video gaming) has increased in popularity over the last few years and has given rise to allegations of unregulated and underage gambling. The eSports market is large. According to a 2016 report by Superdata, professional eSports is growing exponentially and is worth an estimated $612 (US) million a year. Furthermore, Eilers and Krejcik Gaming estimate that real money betting on eSports betting will reach $10 billion (US) by 2020. The professionalization and sportification of this entertainment form has brought sports-world elements to it: stadium-like facilities, cheering stands, sponsors, big rewards, and competition. Instant replays, jumbotrons (i.e., super-huge television screens), and referees add to the sport dramatisation. In some notorious cases, prizes have gone beyond the $10 million [US] threshold in a packed arena housing 73,000 fans. According to by John McMullan and Delthia Miller in a 2008 issue of the Journal of Gambling Issues, sportification is the process of incorporating the logics of sport to non-sporting contexts (e.g., poker, eSports. This can materialise in many ways but most commonly occurs when (i) other industries capitalise on the positive attributes of sport (e.g., popularity, engagement, or sanity and health inferences); and (ii) non-sport fields try to increase the entertainment and playability of their products and their association with joy and excitement.

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Twitch, an online platform that streams live video gaming, informs its’ advertisers that it has 100 million monthly viewers, who watch for an average of 106 minutes a day. Betting on eSports presents new challenges. As a news report in Bloomberg news observed in relation to betting on the game Counterstrike: Global Offensive (CSGO):

“Gambling – licensed, regulated, and by adults – is generally accepted in eSports. There is growing concern, though, that teenagers are being attracted to different forms of betting facilitated by third-party providers. One such platform is CSGO Lounge (an independent site not affiliated with Valve Software, which develops the game itself). The site allows spectators to bet in-game add-ons known as skins – weapons, tools and the like – on the results of matches. Not all skins are created equal, and the rarity of some means they can cost hundreds of real dollars on marketplace sites like SkinXchange.com. The temptation is too much for some”.

Put simply, skin gambling is the use of virtual goods and items (typically cosmetic elements that have no direct influence on gameplay) as virtual currency to bet on the outcome of professional matches. The Bloomberg article also claims on the basis of interviews with industry insiders that underage skin gambling is a “huge problem”. Justin Carlson (lead developer of SkinXchange) claims there are “countless” parents whose children have used their credit cards without their knowledge to buy skins and bet on gaming on other sites. Although anecdotal, Carlson claims that some minors have “racked up hundreds or thousands of dollars in skins on ‘SkinXchange’ just to lose them all on some betting or jackpot site”. It’s clear that people trading skins in eSports has grown over the last few years and various regulators around the world – such as the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) – are considering regulation and says it is an “emerging product” and an “area for continuing future focus”. More specifically, the UKGC’s 2016 Annual Report notes:

 “The growing market in esports and computer gaming has scope to present issues for regulation and player protection – issues which are being examined by gambling regulators in other international markets…These issues range from the emergence of real money esports betting markets, to trading in-game items which blur the lines between gambling and social gaming. Our focus will be to understand developments, including engaging with key stakeholders, and we will work wherever we can to ensure the risks associated with these, particularly to children and young people, are minimised”.

One of the complicating factors for eSports gambling is that while cash is the currency for many gamblers, there is a growing trend towards the use of virtual currencies, or ‘in-game items’ which, according to the UKGC, can be “won, traded, sold or used as virtual currency to gamble with and converted into money or money’s worth”. These, according to the UKGC, “include digital commodities (such as ‘skins’) which can be won or purchased within the confines of computer games and can then be used as a form of virtual currency on a growing number of gambling websites”. No academic research has examined underage skin gambling but this is an issue that is unlikely to diminish over the coming years.

It is also worth noting that this massive interest in eSports followed by a massive audience has led most major betting operators to include eSports in their daily gambling offer. However, the singularities of eSports market pose new challenges that conventional online betting sites struggle to address. Suraj Gosai, co-founder of Blinkpool, an eSports dedicated betting platform, laid out two main problems: in-play betting limitations and odds algorithmic programming. For in-play betting to be viable, companies need to get access to reliable, instantaneous, and unambiguous data that can settle bets and separate winners from losers. Data companies like Perform do that in sport, and betting operators rely on their data to offer in-play action to gamblers. The problem in eSports is that actions are not as quantified and standardised as in real-life sports. To counteract that, Blinkpool created a computer vision technology that extracts data from real-time action and promotes hyper-contextual opportunities, that is, 10- to 45-second in-play betting mini-markets concerning very specific developments in the narrative of the games.

Odds programming in sports betting is fundamentally based on historical data from hundreds of thousands of games, from which each factor (home advantage, table position, head-to-head, etc.) is weighted in to determine the probability of an event occurring. In the fixed-odds betting market, the bookmaker makes available to bettors that probability plus a benefit margin. When placing a bet, an individual bets against the probability that the house has predicted. This is not yet feasible in eSports because the historical data are scarce and the modelling is complex. Companies are circumventing this problem by offering exchange betting rather than fixed-odds. This method comprises peer betting, that is, bettors do not bet against the house but between one another. This way, the house gets a commission from winning bets and operates a much less risky business.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Bracken, G. (2016). We hope to be the home of eSports betting. Gambling Insider. Available from: https://www.gamblinginsider.com/in-depth/1909/we-hope-to-be-the-home-of-esports-betting

Gambling Commission (2015). Explaining our approach to social gaming. Located at: http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/Gambling-data-analysis/Social-media/Explaining-our-approach-to-social-gaming.aspx

Gambling Commission (2016). Annual Report 2015/16. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

McMullan, J. L., & Miller, D. (2008). All in! The commercial advertising of offshore gambling on television. Journal of Gambling Issues, 22, 230-251.

Melbourne, K. & Campbell, M. (2015). Professional gaming may have an underage gambling problem. Bloomberg, September 7. Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-07/professional-video-gaming-has-an-underage-gambling-problem

Superdata (2016). eSports Market Report. Available at: https://www.superdataresearch.com/market-data/esports-market-brief/

Wingfield, N. (2014) In e-Sports, video gamers draw real crowds and big money. New York Times, August 30. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/31/technology/esports-explosion-brings-opportunity-riches-for-video-gamers.html?_r=0

Wood, J. (2016). UK Gambling Commission: We’ll work to minimize risks from emerging esports betting markets. Esports Betting Report, July 19. Available at: http://www.esportsbettingreport.com/uk-regulators-address-esports-betting/

Against all odds: The rise and rise of gambling

In many areas of the world, gambling has become a popular activity. Almost all national surveys into gambling have concluded that most people have gambled at some point in their lives, there are more gamblers than non-gamblers, but that most participants gamble infrequently. Commissions and official government reviews in a number of countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand have all concluded that increased gambling availability has led to an increase in problem gambling. Estimates of the number of problem gamblers vary from country to country but most countries that have carried out national prevalence surveys suggest around 0.5%-2% of individuals have a gambling problem.

In May 2013, the new criteria for problem gambling (now called ‘Gambling Disorder’) were published in the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and for the very first time, problem gambling was included in the section ‘Substance-related and Addiction Disorders’ (rather than in the section on impulse control disorders). Also included in the Appendix of the DSM-5 as a potential addiction was Internet Gaming Disorder (i.e., online video game addiction). Although most of us in the field had been conceptualizing problematic gambling and video gaming as addictions for many years, this was arguably the first time that an established medical body had described them as such. For me, gambling and gaming addictions should not be considered any differently from other more traditional chemical addictions (e.g., alcohol addiction, nicotine addiction). Consequently, there is no theoretical reason why other problematic and excessive activities that do not involve the ingestion of a psychoactive substance cannot be deemed as legitimate behavioural addictions in the years to come (e.g., shopping addiction, sex addiction, work addiction, exercise addiction, etc.).

Gambling is a multifaceted rather than unitary phenomenon. Consequently, many factors are involved in the acquisition, development and maintenance of gambling behaviour. Such factors include an individual’s biological and genetic predisposition, their social environment, psychological variables (personality characteristics, attitudes, expectations, beliefs, etc.), macro-situational characteristics (how much gambling is marketed and advertised, the number of gambling venues within a jurisdiction, where the gambling venue is located), micro-situational characteristics of the gambling environment (on-site cash machine, provision of free alcohol, floor layout etc.), and the structural characteristics of the gambling activity itself (jackpot size, stake size, the number of times a individual can gamble in a given time frame, etc.). Most research has tended to concentrate on individual characteristics (personality, genetics, family and peer influence) rather than situational and structural characteristics.

The introduction of national lotteries, the proliferation of slot machines, the expansion of casinos, and the introduction of new media in which to gamble (e.g., Internet gambling, mobile phone gambling, interactive television gambling, gambling via social networking sites), has greatly increased the accessibility and popularity of gambling worldwide, and as a result, the number of people seeking assistance for gambling-related problems. In addition, the rise of remote gambling via the internet and mobile phones has arguably changed the psychosocial nature of gambling. I have also published a number of studies showing that to vulnerable and susceptible individuals (e.g., problem gamblers, minors, the intoxicated, etc.), the medium of the internet may facilitate and fuel problematic and addictive behaviours.

There are many known factors that make online activity potentially problematic to a minority of individuals. This includes factors such as easy accessibility, affordability, anonymity, convenience, escape, and disinhibition. Some of these factors can change the psychological experience of gambling. For instance, gambling with virtual representations of money online lower the psychological value of the money and people tend to spend more with virtual representations of money than if they were gambling with physical money. Also, when people lose money online it is a different psychological experience because no-one can see anyone losing face-to-face. As a result, there is less guilt and embarrassment about losing and vulnerable individuals may be tempted to spend more time and money than they had originally intended.

One very salient trend that has implications for gambling (and arguably problem gambling) is that technology hardware is becoming increasingly convergent (e.g., internet access via smartphones and interactive television) and there is increasing multi-media integration such as gambling and video gaming via social networking sites. As a consequence, people of all ages are spending more time interacting with technology in the form of internet use, playing videogames, watching interactive television, mobile phone use, social networking, etc. In addition to convergent hardware, there is also convergent content. This includes some forms of gambling including video game elements, video games including gambling elements, online penny auctions that have gambling elements, and television programming with gambling-like elements.

One of the key drivers behind the increased numbers of people gambling online and using social networking sites is the rise of mobile gambling and gaming. Compared to internet gambling, mobile gambling is still a relatively untapped area but the functional capabilities of mobile phones and other mobile devices are improving all the time. There are now hundreds of gambling companies that provide casino-style games to be downloaded onto the gambler’s smartphone or mobile device (e.g., tablet or laptop). This will have implications for the psychosocial impact of gambling and will need monitoring. Like online gambling, mobile gaming has the capacity to completely change the way people think about gambling and betting. Mobile phones provide the convenience of making bets or gambling from wherever the person is, even if they are on the move.

One of the most noticeable changes in gambling over the last few years – and inextricably linked to the rise of mobile gaming – has been the large increase of in-play sports betting. Gamblers can now typically bet on over 60 ‘in-play’ markets while watching a sports event (such as a soccer match). For instance, during a soccer game, gamblers can bet on 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. Live betting is going to become a critical activity in the success of the future online and mobile gambling markets.

The most salient implication of ‘in-play’ sports betting is that it has taken what was traditionally a discontinuous form of gambling – where an individual makes one bet every Saturday on the result of the game – to one where an individual can gamble again and again and again. 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 have both catered for the natural betting demand but introduced new gamblers in the process. If the reward for gambling only happens once or twice a week, it is completely impossible to develop problems and/or become addicted. ‘In-play’ has changed that because there are soccer matches on almost every day of the week making a daily two-hour plus period of betting seven days a week.

New technologies in the form of behavioural tracking have helped online gambling companies keep track of players by noting (among many other things) what games they are playing, the time spent playing, the denomination of the gambles made, and their wins and losses. Although such technologies can potentially be used to exploit gamblers (e.g., targeting the heaviest spenders with direct marketing promotions to gamble even more), such technologies can also be used to help gamblers that may have difficulties stopping and/or limiting their gambling behaviour. Over the past few years, innovative social responsibility tools that track player behaviour with the aim of preventing problem gambling have been developed. These new tools are providing insights about problematic gambling behaviour. A number of European jurisdictions (such as Germany and The Netherlands) are now considering whether such tools should be mandatory for gaming operators to use especially as such tools are already being used in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Austria.

Although gamblers are ultimately responsible for their own behaviour, gambling can be minimised via both governmental policy initiatives (age restrictions, marketing and advertising restrictions, no gaming licenses unless operators display the highest standards of social responsibility to their clientele, etc.) and gaming operator initiatives (self-exclusion programs, information about games so gamblers can make informed choices, limit-setting tools that allow gamblers to set time and money loss limits, staff training on responsible gambling, referral to gambling treatment providers, etc.). Problem gambling can never be totally eliminated but harm minimisation practices can be put in place to keep the problem to a minimum. Treatment for gambling addiction should be free and paid for by gambling industry profits (either in the form of voluntary donations to a charitable trust or – if that doesn’t work – a statutory levy). In short, any jurisdiction that has legalised and liberalised gambling has a duty of care to put a national social responsibility infrastructure in place to prevent, minimise, and treat problem gambling as they would with any other consumptive and potentially addictive behaviour (e.g., drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, etc.)

Please note: A version of this article first appeared in Science and Technology (Pan European Networks) magazine (Volume 15, pages 153-155).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet gambling: Issues, concerns and recommendations. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 557-568.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Gaming convergence: Further legal issues and psychosocial impact. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 14, 461-464.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2014). The technological convergence of gambling and gaming practices. In Richard, D.C.S., Blaszczynski, A. & Nower, L. (Eds.). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Disordered Gambling (pp. 327-346). Chichester: Wiley.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? (pp. 277-292). New York: Prometheus Books.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012).  Internet gambling behavior. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior (pp.735-753). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

McCormack, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). A scoping study of the structural and situational characteristics of internet gambling. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 3(1), 29-49.

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gaming in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.

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.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The assessment of internet gaming disorder in clinical research. Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs, 31(2-4), 35-48.

Zangeneh, M., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2008). The marketing of gambling. In Zangeneh, M., Blaszczynski, A., and Turner, N. (Eds.), In The Pursuit Of Winning (pp. 135-153). New York: Springer.

Match.com: A brief look at gambling and spot-fixing

Match-fixing is nothing new. There’s always been big money to make on the outcome of sporting events. However, spot-fixing (i.e., the action or practice of dishonestly determining the outcome of a specific part of a match or game before it is played) is a more recent phenomenon. The situation escalated in December 2013 when six men (including Blackburn Rovers’ DJ Campbell) were arrested after an investigation into spot-fixing in football by the National Crime Agency. According to the British newspaper The Sun On Sunday, one of their undercover investigators reported that ex-Portsmouth footballer Sam Sodje could arrange for professional football league players to get themselves yellow cards in return for large amounts of money (i.e., tens of thousands of pounds). Consequently, the UK Government is believed to be considering whether match-fixing should be a criminal offence.

Over the past few years, allegations and convictions relating to spot-fixing have been made in many different sports including football, cricket, snooker and horse-racing. In all honesty, this doesn’t surprise me in the least – particularly because sport and gambling have always been inextricably linked. Matt Scott made a number of interesting observations on the issue in a December 2013 article for Inside World Football:

“Betting has a tradition of accompanying football in England in the same way custard goes with English puddings. It just adds a bit of flavour to the proceedings. It is a guilty pleasure, nothing more. No harm done…[However] now is the time to reappraise the complicated English relationship with the ‘harmless’ flutter. 
The ubiquity of the betting companies whose advertisements fill the half-time breaks of every match covered on television has been very lucrative for football. Figures from the website sportingintelligence.com suggest that in title sponsorships alone, Premier League clubs earn £13m a year from betting companies…Investigations by the ‘Sun on Sunday’ and the ‘Daily Telegraph’ have shown how professional footballers appear to be fixing events in matches…Whether they know it or not, players who fix matches or events within them are the foot soldiers of international match-fixing rings who, according to sports anticorruption experts, have links with serious organised crime. The fixers do not place the bulk of their bets with onshore UK bookmakers but in Asian markets where the liquidity is deeper and where the regulatory scrutiny is much lighter…As the National Crime Agency’s arrests have shown, it is high time for law makers and enforcers to act. For if not, it will be easier to deliver yellow cards to order on the football pitch than for miscreant bookmakers to be issued with cautions about their activities”.

Personally, I think the rise of match-fixing and spot-fixing has mirrored the rise in the use of betting exchanges like Betfair, and the rise of in-play betting. Back in 2005, I published an article on betting exchanges and argued that they had radically altered the shape of gambling particularly because – for the first time – gamblers could bet on individuals and/or teams losing (in contrast to traditional bookmakers that would only take bets on who was going to win). Betting shop operators got worried because their clientele could use betting exchanges to become bookmakers themselves. As a consequence, I argued that betting exchanges had potentially opened the door to fraud, corruption, and crime. As Matt Scott reported:

“In 2006 a whistleblower who had previously worked for the bookmaker Victor Chandler claimed to have data from accounts belonging to Premier League players and managers. The account holders had allegedly bet on matches in their own competitions, in breach of football’s regulations. But Victor Chandler International [VCI] obtained a high-court injunction preventing the release of information about the accounts…There is no way of knowing if the alleged breaches of regulations relating to the VCI accountholders amounted to anything more sinister. (And it is fair to say that Chandler would be unlikely to have exposed himself repeatedly to bets on matches involving account holders’ teams, given the substantial risk of manipulation)”.

More recently, in-play betting has become very popular among sports bettors and plays into the hands of the spot-fixers. As the CEO of OpenBet commented:

“The periodic ritual of predicting a daily or weekly series of events is no longer the mainstay. Today’s punter wants to be able to turn on their gadget of choice and instantly be offered an array of real-time betting opportunities with immediate results…Sports betting is growing in what is offered, how it is offered, when it is offered, where it is offered, and to whom it is offered…Like the financial markets, volatile events produce increased liquidity and increased liquidity produces greater revenue to the operator”.

We can now bet on dozens of ‘in-play’ markets while watching almost any sporting event. Should I wish to, during any football match 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, who will get a red card, and/or in what minute of the second half will the first free kick be awarded. Money talks – and there is big money to be made. Paying sports men and women relatively large amounts of money to lose a point (in tennis), get a yellow card (in football), go down in the ninth round (in boxing), or lose a frame (in snooker) can result in even more money for those paying the sports players in the first place.

But maybe technological advance will be the solution to the problem. Technology makes it easier to spot betting cheats and criminal activity. Betting exchange and in-play betting technology means that every bet made through their systems can be tracked and leave an audit trail. Unusual betting patterns can be identified and shared with the relevant sporting and criminal authorities. While prevention is better than detection, betting audit trails do at least give us the chance to crack down on the cheats – even if it’s after the fact. The more sports cheats that are caught, the bigger the deterrent. While we would never want to stop people having an enjoyable punt on their favourite team, we do need to make sure that gambling is as fraud-free as possible. In Matt Scott’s article, the English football Premier League’s general secretary, Nic Coward, summarized what is required of the UK government.

“It [is] true of any regulated sector that there need to be clear regulations in place so that the sector and stakeholders with an interest in the sector understand what they are…That they are monitored; that there is an effective compliance regime; and that there are real enforcement provisions behind it”.

Note: This blog is a much extended version of an article that first appeared in Nottingham Trent University’s Expert Opinion column

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). All in the game. Inside Edge: The Gambling Magazine, July (Issue 28), p. 67.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gambling addiction among footballers: causes and consequences. World Sports Law Report, 8(3), 14-16.

Scott, M. (2013). Time to overhaul football’s betting relationship. Inside World Football. December 12. Located at: http://www.insideworldfootball.com/matt-scott/13779-matt-scott-time-to-overhaul-football-s-betting-relationship

Mind the App: 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 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, 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 football matches on almost every day of the week making a daily 2-hour plus period of betting seven days a week. ‘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.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

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. (2012b). 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, in press.

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-casinos-by-adding-real-money-bets

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

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-gambling-apps-top-security-risk-list

Play’s cool? Is the type of game played important in the development of gambling addictions?

Earlier today, I (and my research colleague Michael Auer) had a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology arguing that the type of game that people gamble on is irrelevant in the acquisition, development, and maintenance of pathological gambling. We noted that anyone coming into the gambling studies field from a psychological perspective would probably conclude from reading the literature that problem and pathological gambling is associated with particular game types. More specifically, there appears to be a line of thinking in the gambling studies field that casino-type games (and particularly slot machines) are more likely to be associated with problem gambling than lottery-type games.

We argued that the most important factors along with individual susceptibility and risk factors of the individual gambler are the structural characteristics relating to the speed and frequency of the game (and more specifically event frequency, bet frequency, event duration and payout interval) rather than the type of game. Event frequency refers to the number of events that are available for betting and gambling within any given time period. For example, a lottery draw may occur once a week but a slot machine may allow 15 chances to gamble inside one minute. In this example, slot machine gambling has a higher event frequency than lottery gambling. Bet frequency refers to the number of bets or gambles placed in any given time period. Using lottery playing as example, Dr. Jonathan Parke and I noted in a 2007 book chapter on structural characteristics, that multiple tickets (e.g., 10 tickets) can usually be purchased as frequently as desired before any single lottery draw. In this instance, bet frequency would be equal to 10 but event frequency would be equal to 1. Therefore, event frequency can often be much lower than bet frequency and it is possible for players to spend more than they can afford even with a low event frequency.

Dr. Parke and I have stated that further empirical research is needed into the relationship between event frequency and bet frequency. This is because researchers often assume that event frequency and bet frequency have a strong relationship (i.e., the higher number of betting/gambling events – the higher the frequency of betting/gambling). However, this may not be the case.

Another important gaming parameter is event duration. This refers to how fast the event in question is (e.g., a reel spin on a slot machine might last three seconds). Here, it is important to note that duration of the betting/gambling event is different from event frequency (although they may be inextricably linked in so much as the length of a betting event will obviously limit the frequency with which they can take place). Again, Dr Parke and I noted that a betting event lasting two hours (e.g., a soccer game) could not have an event frequency greater than one in any 2-hour period but could have a betting frequency of over 100 with the advent of in-play betting.

In-play betting and gambling (which I examined in a previous blog) refers to the wagering on an event that has started but has not yet finished. This means gamblers can continue to bet on an event (e.g., a soccer or cricket match) and perhaps more importantly, adapt their bets according to how the event is progressing.  For instance, in the UK, during the playing of almost any soccer match, a gambler 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 the game and/or in what minute of the second half will the first free kick be awarded. What I argued in a previous blog is that ‘in-play’ gambling activities have taken what was traditionally a discontinuous form of gambling – where a gambler made one bet every weekend on the result of the game – to one where a player can gamble continuously again and again. In short, the same game has been turned from what was a low event frequency gambling activity into a potentially high frequency one (and gone from an activity that had little association with problem gambling to one where problem gambling is far more likely among excessive in-play gamblers).

Another important (and related) structural characteristic is payout interval. This is the time between the end of the betting event (i.e., the outcome of the gamble) and the winning payment (if there is one). The frequency of playing when linked with two other factors – the result of the gamble (win or loss) and the actual time until winnings are received – exploits the psychological principles of learning. This process of operant conditioning conditions habits by rewarding (i.e., reinforcing) behaviour (i.e., through presentation of a reward such as money). To produce high rates of response, those schedules which present rewards intermittently (random and variable ratio schedules) have shown to be most effective. Since a number of gambling activities (most notable slot machines) operate on random and variable ratio schedules it is unsurprising that excessive gambling can occur.

To highlight the irrelevance of game type, consider the following two examples that demonstrate that it is the structural characteristics rather than the game type that is critical in the acquisition, development and maintenance of problem and pathological gambling for those who are vulnerable and/or susceptible. A “safe” slot machine could be designed in which no-one would ever develop a gambling problem. The simplest way to do this would be to ensure that whoever was playing the machine could not press the ‘play button’ or pull the lever more than once a week. An enforced structural characteristic of an event frequency of once a week would almost guarantee that players could not develop a gambling problem. Alternatively, a problematic form of lottery could be designed where instead of the draw taking place weekly, bi-weekly or daily, it would be designed to take place once every few minutes. Such an example is not hypothetical and resembles lottery games that already exist in the form of rapid-draw lottery games like keno.

The general rule is that the higher the event frequency, the more likely it is that the gambling activity will cause problems for the individual (particularly if the individual is susceptible and vulnerable). Problem and pathological gambling are essentially about rewards, and the speed and frequency of those rewards. Almost any game could be designed to either have high event frequencies or low event frequencies. Therefore, the more potential rewards there are, the more problematic and addictive an activity is likely to be and this is irrespective of game type as games such as diverse as lotteries and slot machines could have identical event frequencies and event durations.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Fruit machine gambling: The importance of structural characteristics. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 101-120.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). The role of cognitive bias and skill in fruit machine gambling. British Journal of Psychology, 85, 351-369.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). The psychology of the near miss (revisited): A comment on Delfabbro and Winefield. British Journal of Psychology, 90, 441-445.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Impact of high stake, high prize gaming machines on problem gaming. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

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.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2001). The psychology of lottery gambling. International Gambling Studies, 1, 27-44.

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gaming in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics (revisited). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.

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.

The ‘In’ Crowd: Is there a relationship between ‘in-play’ betting and problem gambling?

For those of us who watch football 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 ‘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 the first free kick will be awarded.

‘In-play’ betting is arguably the fastest growing form of gambling in the UK and the UK’s leading ‘in-play’ bookmaker Bet 365 made over £500 million last year. One of the issues I have been asked by the press is to what extent ‘in-play’ betting can be problematic. One of the interviews I did recently was with the Mail on Sunday who published some of my comments yesterday in an article entitled Risky business: With the advent of online gambling, are we creating an epidemic of addiction? ’I was quoted as saying:

‘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”

This indeed was a good summary of the interview I did. 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. At a typical Gamblers Anonymous group, you will get horse racing addicts, slot machine addicts, casino addicts, but it was rare that you got anyone ever having problems with things like football betting, mainly because football betting opportunities were once a week on the pools or betting before the match on a Saturday afternoon.

As I noted in my published quote above, if the reward for gambling only happens once or twice a week, it is completely impossible to become addicted. In-play has changed that because we now have football matches on almost every day of the week making a daily 2-hour plus period of betting seven days a week. As a psychologist who has researched problem gambling for over 25 years, I would assess the structural characteristics of this type of activity and associate it with the type that causes problem gambling for those that are vulnerable and susceptible. So why do I think this?

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.

A paper by Dr Kevin Harrigan and Dr. Mike Dixon (University of Waterloo, Canada) estimated the speed of slot machine play on slot machines. On a machine with a reel spin of every six seconds, players can play 10 times per minute, (i.e., 600 spins per hour) whereas those on a machine with a reel spin of every three seconds, players can play 20 times a minute (i.e., 1200 spins per hour). I also found similar results in research I carried out on British slot machines in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

It is important to acknowledge that duration of the betting event is different from event frequency. However, they may be inextricably linked in so much as the length of a betting event will obviously limit the frequency with they can take place. For example, a betting event lasting two hours (e.g., wagering only on the final outcome of a football game) could not have an event frequency greater than one in any 2-hour period, but a roulette spin (lasting approximately 5-6 seconds) may have an event frequency of several hundred in the same two-hour period. Furthermore, as a result of the introduction of in-running or situational betting (i.e., ‘in-play betting’) this relationship is even less clear.

Event frequency refers to the number of events that are available for betting in any given time period. For example, a lottery draw may occur twice a week but an electronic keno lottery draw may occur 100 times per hour. In this example, a keno lottery draw has a higher event frequency. Bet frequency, on the other hand, refers to the number of bets or wagers placed in any given time period. Using the lottery again as an example, multiple tickets (e.g., 10 tickets) can usually be purchased as frequently as desired before any single lottery draw. So here bet frequency would be equal to 10 but event frequency would be equal to 1. Therefore, bet frequency can often be higher than event frequency and hence, it is possible to spend more than one can afford even with a low event frequency.

The relationship between bet frequency and event frequency needs further empirical investigation. As researchers and clinicians, we often make the assumption the two have a strong relationship; the higher number of betting events – the higher the frequency of betting. Until more research is forthcoming a definitive answer is currently not available. Although, players can place many bets on just one gambling event, the outcome of this event can influence future betting activity. By outcomes, we are essentially referring to winning or losing. Losing can often create financial and emotional motivation to continue betting (i.e. chasing). It could be speculated that the satisfaction from winning may reduce motivation for further betting in the short-term, or it may increase betting as a result of increased bankroll, illusions of control and/or cognitive biases. Therefore, a higher event frequency not only offers more opportunity and choice for betting, but also affects motivation for betting through revealing consequential wins and losses at the end of each event. However, it should also be noted that betting frequency is also impacted by other factors (e.g., peer pressure, time constraints to gamble, etc.).

So does the speed of a game influence the prevalence of problem and pathological 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. 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 such as slot machines 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.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Additional input by Dr. Jonathan Parke (Salford University, UK)

Further reading

Blaszczynski, A, Sharpe, L., & Walker, M. (2001). The Assessment of the Impact of the Reconfiguration on Electronic Gaming Machines as Harm Minimization Strategies for Problem Gambling. Report for the Gaming Industry Operators Group, University of Sydney Gambling Research Group, Sydney

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Fruit machine gambling: The importance of structural characteristics. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 101-120.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). The role of cognitive bias and skill in fruit machine gambling. British Journal of Psychology, 85, 351-369.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999a). Gambling technologies: Prospects for problem gambling. Journal of Gambling Studies, 15, 265-283.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Impact of high stake, high prize gaming machines on problem gaming. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

Harrigan, K. & Dixon, M. (2009). PAR Sheets, probabilities, and slot machine play: Implications for problem and non-problem gambling. Journal of Gambling Issues, 23, 81-110.

Ladouceur. R., & Sévigny, S. (2005a). The impact of video lottery game speed on gamblers. Journal of Gambling Issues, 17.

Loba, P., Stewart, S. H., Klein, R. M. & Blackburn, J. R. (2002). Manipulations of the features of standard Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) games: Effects in pathological and non-pathological gamblers. Journal of Gambling Studies, 17, 297-320.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics (revisited). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.

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.