Gambling Apps Again Called More Addictive than Crack Cocaine

Smartphone being used

 30-second summary

  • Study shows gambling apps on smartphones fall below the radar
  • One user lost 177 bets in a row
  • Psychology professor claims the scope of gambling widens the net

With gambling apps under the spotlight thanks to such recent prime time programs as ITV’s “Cleaning Up,” a recent study claims that some apps put users at risk of addiction while falling under the radar. Professor Richard Tuney, a leading psychologist who carried out a study to determine addiction levels, discovered that the ease of placing a bet through an app means that the control of visiting a casino has vanished. Furthermore, participants couldn’t stop themselves from placing bets even after a significant losing streak of up to 40 lost bets.

A victim of its own success

Online gambling is partly a victim of its huge success mainly because of its ease of access. While this has attracted more casual and responsible punters to the industry, it has led to a surge in addictions because users can now place a bet with the touch of a button.

A recent study has shown that those who use their phones to place bets are then more willing to continue, even after a long losing streak. Professor Tuney, the head of psychology at Aston University in Birmingham, led a 12-week study on the use of gambling apps which he claimed are mostly ignored because mobile games fall “under the radar.” This is mainly due to society’s acceptance of constant phone use as the norm.

The psychologist reported that using smartphone apps for gambling could be detrimental to gamblers because of the highly addictive properties. The level of addiction has already been compared to that of crack cocaine by critics, but now that title has been transferred to smartphone apps, making them the crack cocaine of the gambling industry. Indeed, having constant access to gambling apps as long as you have a Wi-Fi signal means people who continuously lose bets can continue to make them without any physical safety measures.

Gambling “just a tap away”

The study used an app similar to that of a fruit machine with a virtual scratch-card that the user swiped away to discover three symbols. Like the fruit machine, the symbols correlated with a cash price, with one user winning £93 ($121.44). At the beginning of the study, the only restriction put on hold was a 100-bet-per-day limit.

To study the addiction level of the game, a contingency was put in place so that, after six weeks into the experiment, the users could only lose. Despite this, all 28 research participants continued playing.

Professor Tuney said: “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.

“For people psychologically disposed to addictive behaviors, 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.”

177 losses in one streak

During the study, the average user lost 40 consecutive bets before giving up, and one user continued until losing 177 bets in a row. The results also found that participants were less likely to stop when they were losing, and they bet more quickly after getting two matching symbols.

It’s expected that gambling charities will see the results of this study as a further indication that more safeguards must be put in place in online gaming to prevent underage players, fraudulent transactions, and vulnerable customers.

The study, which was published in the European Addiction Research journal, highlighted the impact of having constant availability to the app as participants used their phone for the app at home and work but less likely when they were in social surroundings.

It concluded: “Whereas it has been shown that the primary risk of internet gambling is to people already addicted to gambling, mobile gambling’s behavioral profile suggests a risk towards a wider proportion of the population.”