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Online sports betting is developing so fast that regulators such as the Gambling Commission either can’t keep up or simply have not been given the powers to act to prevent harm.

Three very relevant papers appeared recently in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (2019, vol 17, issue 6). One reviewed 18 papers that had been written on the subject and looked at 33 online sites (Killick & Griffiths, pp 1456-95). A second surveyed over 600 Spanish gamblers (Lopez-Gonzalez et al., pp 1360-73). The third analysed betting behaviour data from 19 Unibet customers and interviewed five of them (Parke and Parke, pp 1340-59).

They all highlight features of online sports betting which are helping to turn it into an ever more dangerous commodity. These features include: live betting (‘in-play’ or ‘in-running’ betting which provide multiple opportunities to bet, during a sporting match, on events other than the final outcome); micro-event betting (in which a match is broken down into parts, such as a quarter of a basketball match, on which bets can be placed); cash out (when a bettor can decide things are not looking good and accepts the promoter’s offer to return part of the original stake); as well as novel ways of encouraging bettors to put more money into their accounts (instant depositing) or not to take their money out (such as giving a period of time in which a decision to take one’s money out can be reversed).

These features have the effect of turning online sports betting further and further away from the likes of betting on a limited number of horse races in one afternoon or waiting until Saturday to hear the football results. It increasingly becomes a more continuous, rapid activity, more likely to be subject to emotion-driven impulses, more vulnerable to irrational cognitive biases and processes such as chasing losses. Combined with the sheer accessibility of online sports betting now and the ubiquity of its marketing, no wonder it is proving so dangerous.

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