Smart phone and gambling addictions are already bad enough, but experts are now saying gambling apps and cellphones are an especially dangerous combination. For people with gambling problems, the advent of gambling apps on smartphones can be even more of a threat than fixed-odds betting terminals. By bringing gambling out of the shadows and onto your nearest touchscreen, all bets are off.
Compulsive gambling is a major problem for thousands of people. Statistics show that some two million people in the United States are struggling with a gambling problem. Compulsive betting costs people in the U.S. a staggering $6 billion annually, and with the rise of smartphone gambling apps, those numbers are likely to only get worse.
While fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) have been the subject of scrutiny for years, researchers have recently put the spotlight on a more insidious form of addiction: Gambling apps. Professor Richard Turney, head of psychology at Aston University in Birmingham, says that gambling apps are even “more addictive than crack cocaine.”
According to Turney, addictions to gambling apps tend to “fly under the radar” because people are already so addicted to their phones. This conditioning makes the attachment to apps and games seem normal — even though it comes with a steep cost.
“Policymakers have clamped down hard on fixed-odds terminals because they’ve become associated with problem gamblers. But actually, we’ve been overtaken by technology, because it’s now possible for people to gamble pretty much anywhere, any time on their smartphone,” the professor told the Daily Mail.
“For people psychologically disposed to addictive behaviours, this means an outlet for that is now just a tap away. So while these games may look non-threatening, they’re potentially more dangerous precisely because they’re so ubiquitous,” Turney explained further.
As the professor notes, FOTBs are no longer the primary driver of gambling addiction, even though these forms of gambling remain the primary object of scrutiny. Meanwhile, smartphone gambling addiction has run rampant.
Turney and his team conducted a 12-week study in which they asked people to play a virtual scratchcard game. Swiping away a gray rectangle would reveal three symbols — and if those three symbols matched, the users would win a prize.
But after six weeks, the team reset the game — making it so users could only lose. The 28 people featured in the study continued to play the game for days afterwards, even though they couldn’t win. One person placed 177 losing bets in a row before giving up. On average, users would take 40 bets before giving up on the game. And if there was a “near-miss,” — wherein users got two matching symbols — they were more likely to bet again more quickly.
Users were given a max allowance of 100 bets per day, and the study found that when people are losing, they were far less likely to stop gambling before that point. In other words, losing was not a deterrent — and in fact, seemed to drive them to continue gambling.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, a spokesman for gambling reform and co-founder of Gamban (an app that blocks gambling websites), told The Guardian that gambling laws in the U.K. were written “before smartphones even existed, and at a time when internet gambling was only getting started.”
Zarb-Cousin says that while governments have taken action to regulate FOTB gambling, there are no real regulations for internet gambling — making it a whole different beast. Combined with the normalization of cellphone addiction, the risk gambling apps pose to the public cannot be understated.
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