Smartphone gambling apps could be even more addictive than the controversial ‘crack cocaine’ casino-style betting terminals in bookmakers, a leading psychologist has warned.
Gamblers who use their phones to bet are willing to keep losing money long after they stop winning, a study found.
In the worst case, one person placed almost 180 losing bets in a row before stopping.
The Daily Mail has led a campaign to cut the £100 limit that can be staked each turn on casino-style fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), which have been likened to ‘crack cocaine’ by some critics because they are so addictive.
But Professor Richard Tunney, who led the study into gambling apps, said mobile games fall ‘under the radar’ because people are already conditioned to be constantly on their phones.
The professor, who is head of psychology at Aston University in Birmingham, 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 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.’
The study asked people to use an app that displayed a virtual scratchcard, and swiping away a grey rectangle revealed three symbols. As on a fruit machine, matching three symbols won them a prize. These winnings mounted up, with one person winning £93 in total.
To test how addictive the game was, researchers stopped it from paying out six weeks into the experiment, so players could only lose. But the 28 people in the study kept playing for days afterwards, with one person placing 177 losing bets in a row. The average number of consecutive losing bets before giving up was 40.
The study found people bet again more quickly after a ‘near-miss’ – getting two matching symbols.
Professor Tunney said: ‘My concern is that we have focused on fixed-odds betting terminals, which affect a relatively small number of people, and meanwhile, under the radar, this technology has spread gambling throughout society.
‘We know people repeatedly pick up their phones, such as when they are waiting for a bus or for the kettle to boil. This could normalise someone picking up their phone to put on many bets a day. From a legislative point of view, there are pretty much no restrictions on smartphone gambling.’
The 12-week study, published in the journal European Addiction Research, gave the subjects a limit of 100 bets a day. Across the group, when people were losing they were far less likely to stop gambling before that point.
The people in the study used the app at home, work and, less frequently, in social situations.
The study concluded: ‘Whereas it has been shown that the primary risk of internet gambling is to people already addicted to gambling, mobile gambling’s behavioural profile suggests a risk towards a wider proportion of the population.’