Gaming

Tap Your Bets: the Growth of Mobile Gambling

The traditional image of a gambler—middle-aged man, down-on-his-luck, drinking, sitting on a stool at a flashy, tacky casino—no longer reflects reality. Now, most gamblers sit at home, their faces illuminated by screens, lighting up even more when they win. This thanks to the sheer convenience of online gambling, particularly on mobiles.

Online gambling is now the largest gambling sector in the United Kingdom, with 33% of the gambling market. The bookies aren’t worrying yet, but William Hill & co. may be slowly put out of business as mobile gambling continues to grow. As smartphone gambling reaches new heights, we take a look at what’s behind the smartphone gambling explosion, and whether this trend is positive, or dangerous for users.

Why has mobile gambling grown this big?

The trend towards mobile gambling is underpinned by a variety of factors, but on the simplest level, it is part of a much broader trend towards mobile everything. In 2016, over half of all online sales in the UK were made on mobile phones. So many people browse the web on their smartphones that the “mobile first” maxim has caught on amongst Google engineers and web developers. People are using mobiles more in general, so it makes sense that they’d be using them to gamble more too.

There are other reasons online gambling has become so dominant. Gambling online, whether with a phone, tablet or laptop, opens up new opportunities for those looking to play to win. No longer restricted by geography, online gamblers in the UK can enter international polls like the Irish Lotto, German Lotto, and lotteries from many other countries, as well as casinos and poker rooms that may offer higher stakes and better odds than local betting shops.

On top of both of these reasons, though, mobile gambling has done something more fundamental: it has opened gambling up to a whole new audience. Anyone who has ever watched daytime TV will be familiar with Foxy Bingo, Gala Bingo, and the other “online gaming” websites that advertise at these times.

As the advertisements make clear, these platforms are aimed at women. When scheduling is taken into account, we can conclude that they are aimed at women who might be home during the day watching Jeremy Kyle or Loose Women.

In gambling’s offline days, these women were not exactly in its target audience. On average, men still gamble more than women, but these new targeted ads are working. Refinery29’s investigation into young women’s gambling habits found that a significant number of female gamblers are swayed by these marketing tactics, and many of them are becoming addicted. Which raises another question. Online gambling, with all its convenience and appeal, might end up doing more harm than good for those who flock to it.

Is it smart to gamble on your smartphone?

Gala Bingo, Foxy Bingo, Jackpot Joy—even sports betting sites and online casinos that are aimed at men, all make gambling easier, and most of them portray it as more of a game than a financial investment. The fact that you could, and likely will, lose money is played down completely in most mobile gambling marketing. Instead, mobile gambling apps appear alongside other mobile games in the app store.

This is not inherently harmful. Many mobile and online gambling websites have built-in tools to help users protect themselves and prevent addiction. Daily spend limits, budget calculators, and even self-exclusion options are frequently available to conscious online gamblers. And it’s important that mobile gamblers use them. They can also read advice online from non-profit bodies like BeGambleAware. Gambling without these safety nets can be dangerous, especially when the games resemble Candy Crush and other addictive low-stakes distractions.

Mobile gambling has ballooned into something bigger than anyone ever expected. It’s good news for the gambling industry, and it could be good news for gamblers too—as long as they gamble safely, carefully, and responsibly.

 
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Simon Davies is a London based freelance writer with an interest in startup culture, issues and solutions.

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