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Is Mobile Gambling Creating Problem Gamblers?

TAGs: British Gambling Prevalence Survey, Editorial, GamCare, mike o donnell, mobile gambling, modqs

MODQs-inpostThe latest arguments against the availability of online gambling are upon us – particularly in the UK where recent figures produced by Gamcare have created negative headlines regarding mobile gambling.

Leading the way has been BBC’s Newsbeat who attributed the third consecutive annual rise in the number of 18 to 35-year-olds contacting the advice service to increase smartphone use and online betting availability.

Other publishers have cottoned on to the story and used the figures to create similar headlines casting mobile gambling in a less than negative light. On one hand, given that online gambling has been the subject of so many complaints from morally upstanding people such as Sheldon Adelson, it’s something of a surprise that it has taken this long for mobile gambling to be targeted so specifically. On a less optimistic note, those attempted to persuade the cynical that gambling activities aren’t inherently dangerous now have another flank that they have to defend.

The opposition will have plenty of ammunition too, thanks to Gamcare’s figures and the reporting of them. The number of 18 to 35-year-olds that rang the service last year was 5,552, 6.5% more than the previous year’s total of 5,215. An even younger sub-section of that group – 18 to 24-year-olds -make up 30% of the calls made to Gamcare with 8,813 people contacting the service throughout the year.

These statistics certainly don’t cast mobile gambling in a particularly positive light and it’s easy to understand how the activity is considered by some to be more dangerous than online gambling and, in-turn, gambling in a land-based casino or bookmakers. The main issue is its availability. The simplest and most obvious line of thinking is that the more available a gambling service is, the more problems that it will cause. Given that this is a fairly logical train of thought; can those in the mobile gambling argue against it?

Context and desensitisation

Before making this first point, it’s worth noting that nothing written here is meant to belittle the problem of compulsive gambling or any similar afflictions. However, context is required with the 8,813 people getting in touch with Gamcare representing a tiny number of those who actually gamble. The British Gambling Prevalence Survey estimates that 0.9% of the population is a problem gambler. Compare this to the likes of shopping where it is estimated that addiction to shopping affects 8-16% of adults in the UK and you get a picture that perhaps this isn’t really too bad. Of course, in an ideal world one problem gambler is one too many but the low numbers we’re talking about here must be kept in context.

Continuing with the shopping comparison (so as to avoid the stigma attached to gambling) you could easily make the argument that the increased availability of items that can be purchased across different devices at any time of day has been a dangerous step in the evolution of commerce – but no one does. Had this argument been made then it may even be countered with the fact that just because you’re able to view more items you don’t always buy them. Modern consumers face so much noise that they’re now desensitised to a lot of marketing materials and potential purchase points that reach them. The same can be said for online gambling.

In the past, an increase in land-based gambling opportunities has led to increases in the percentage of gamblers and problem gamblers – but the same increase in online opportunities may not necessarily have the same affect. The reason being that a greater willpower is required in order to travel a larger distance.  A bookmaker being at the end of your road instead of on the other side of town is going to be more of a deciding factor than betting on your mobile rather than your laptop.

Anonymity or the lack of it is another reason for saying that mobile gambling isn’t the problem that many have made it out to be. If users are gambling to an unsafe degree then operators know about it quite quickly thanks to all of the tracking systems in place. Mr Green’s Green Gaming is an example of this where the betting limits set up mean that gambling at that site is restricted to safe levels – something that can’t be done for land-based gaming. It’s arguments like this that suggest that online gambling is being viewed more negatively than it should be as a result of its association with the land-based industry.

Of course, online gamblers displaying different behavioural patterns to land-based gamblers is an unproven theory, but that’s the point. There isn’t enough research to be able to point directly to a correlation between availability of mobile gambling and percentage of problem gamblers. Land-based research may suggest that there might be but the internet has thrown up some interesting behavioural facts and this might just be another one of them.

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