More addictive than ever – gambling on the go

January 25, 2018 12:15 PM
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The most recent industry research into online gambling behavior has revealed that the proportion of players accessing slots and other casino games via their mobile devices is increasing at a rapid rate.

In the UK in 2016, for instance, 43% of players at online casinos accessed games though their smartphones, a rise of over 10% on the numbers from 2015. With 77% of adults in the US and 76% in the UK owning a smartphone according to the latest data published in 2017 (and with 10% of US adults and 18% in the UK living in mobile-only households where hand-held devices are the sole means of connecting to the internet), the participation rates for mobile gambling look set to increase further.

The casino industry has always been very quick at responding to changes in players’ habits, and as a consequence we have seen a number of new operators come into the market who are working on a ‘mobile-first’ model i.e, they market themselves specifically as mobile casinos. Responding to our ever greater reliance on mobile devices, they have sought to capitalize on this by offering players better mobile gaming platforms, making playing slots and other games more accessible, and improving the overall quality of the mobile gaming experience. 

This has been facilitated by the introduction of HTML5 technology, which has enabled operators to offer more and better-quality web-based games, both at their mobile and desktop sites, and this in turn has led to a move away from the previous model whereby players had to download a software client to play on a desktop, or an app if they wanted to access games on a smartphone or tablet. Instead, more casinos now operate purely on a web-based model, which has ultimately led to greater variety and choice for players. This change in emphasis has also been part of the reason why the numbers playing slots on mobile devices has increased so quickly and so significantly; there is more choice, game stability and quality have improved, while the increased size of the screens on the latest smartphones has also enhanced the mobile gaming experience.

A growing number of both new and established operators are now working on this mobile-first model. This Casino of Dreams review gives an example of how mobile casinos have evolved, and the sort of game range and features that most mobile casinos now offer. Rather than being limited to the games of one producer, players now can enjoy the games of several leading developers side by side.

This has also meant that the number of mobile slots and casino games an operator can offer has increased significantly — at brands like Casumo, Dunder and bgo, for instance, the number of slots on offer in their mobile casinos is as extensive as at their desktop sites, whereas until fairly recently the range of mobile games (both web-based and app versions) tended to be much smaller.

However, the marked rise in the popularity of mobile gambling has not been universally welcomed, with charities and government agencies suggesting that the constant accessibility of mobile gaming has led to a significant increase in the number of problem gamblers, and/or exacerbated the difficulties of those who already have a recognized condition.

In the UK, for instance, the National Problem Gambling Clinic (NPGC) found that 63% of its patients in 2016-17 had problems with mobile gambling, up from 24% in 2012-13. It is the ever-present availability of games, and the fact that they can be accessed from anywhere and at any time that is the primary cause for concern, as problem gamblers are unable to walk away as easily as they might from a desktop site.

However, the Remote Gambling Association, the peak body that represents online gambling companies operating in the UK, attributes this to societal change and the fact that reliance on mobile phone has become more widespread, and so an increase in the number of problem gamblers citing mobile gambling as a concern is simply commensurate with increased rates of use.

Whatever the case, going forward there have been calls for greater onus to be placed on mobile casino operators to verify whether their customers can actually afford their bets. Anti-gambling campaigners are not convinced that the current self-regulation arrangements in this regard are effective and are demanding greater government intervention to ensure that gambling companies do more to ensure that players are gambling responsibly.

Likewise, it is argued that self-exclusion and player-set limits do not work effectively, as a player can easily establish an account at another mobile casino and then return to their previous playing patterns. In response, it is reported that software company gamban is developing an app that will enable problem gamblers to block gambling sites completely on their smartphones and tablets.

Despite the concerns that have been expressed, there are nevertheless no plans at present for the UK Gambling Commission, the regulatory body that oversees online and mobile gambling in the UK, to bring in any restrictions beyond those already in place. For the time being, therefore, self-regulation by operators and self-exclusion by players, are likely to remain as the frontline weapons against increased instances of problem gambling occasioned by playing on mobile devices.  

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