Phoning It In

Does the profitability and success of mobile sports betting have a darker side? Gaming expert Richard Schuetz believes the industry needs to pay attention to the availability of betting to those afflicted with problem gambling.

Phoning It In

“Teach your children well”—Graham Nash

I am the adult child of an alcoholic. One can use Google to look up the variety of implications that this can have on the development and psychology of the individual, and I suspect I possess them all. The short story is that when a parent is addicted to alcohol, the child will always play second fiddle in the scheme of things, for the addiction always comes first.

To an alcoholic, the drink is the thing, and after the drink takes hold, all kinds of other things become important—and it is seldom the alcoholic’s child. This tendency for the addict to place their drug of choice above all else is certainly not unique to alcohol, for it is an aspect of most addictions.

An addiction now expressing itself throughout our modern culture concerns our phones. It even has a name and nomophobia (no more phone) is now a thing, and it appears that there is nothing slowing this thing down. One only needs to momentarily lift their eyes up from their own phone to see that people are continually engaged with their phones.

Researchers measure the dimensions of our phone relationship and every new effort to measure time-on-device leads to a larger number. We now are engaged with our phones for over two and one-half hours per day, and if we add tablets to this, our total approaches four and one-half hours. Money will also start flowing into this new addiction vertical, and look for growth in books, articles, treatment facilities, treatment gurus, and treatment fellowships to be on the rise. I would also suggest that as we add gambling activities to these phones, we will start to see something approaching a co-morbid perfect storm. The only thing that could enhance this is if the phone also served as a flask.

For this article, I am primarily interested in talking about the use of a phone to transact sports wagers, especially within sport venues. This is one of the new big “opportunities” as sports wagering takes on a legal and regulated life in the United States. Moreover, as the phone becomes the betting channel, every operator will be pushing to get more betting options through that channel, leading to in-play and in-game wagering, where the array of betting choices is almost limitless, enhanced by notifications that can alert you to tailored betting temptations from throughout the planet. This is great news for the leagues for it will increase engagement. It is also great news for the operators and related entities, for it increases betting velocity and therefor profitability.

Now, what could possibly go wrong here? My theory is that we will take this thing called a smart phone, which seems to have an ability to become additive with some folks, and add sports wagering on speed, which should do a fairly good job of capturing the addictive tendencies of the problem gambler, and wrap them up into a nasty little package that fits in one’s pocket. The good news about this is that essentially everyone in the ecosystem makes more money when this happens, so this will be known as cool, exciting, and the next big thing.

This addiction will also be difficult to address. I quit drinking over 19 years ago, and for many of the early years I did not enter bars, keep booze in my house, and that sort of thing. It just did not seem like a good idea. But the poor soul who gets hooked on betting through the phone probably cannot give up the phone, for it is very close to a necessity in our modern world. For this reason the phone/gambling combination will have the potential to generate some pretty amazing recidivism. It is not unlike a situation where an alcoholic was required to keep a bottle in his glove compartment. This could only lead to a heightened incidence of relapse.

I will leave it to the politicians, lobbyists, operators, affiliates, and the like to figure out how they are going to handle all of this, for it is well beyond my skill set. Maybe I am overly pessimistic, but I envision a lot of parents attending sporting events, and my guess is the majority will be fathers, being locked on to the pho

ne because the man of the house has important betting matters to address, and he is being bombarded with opportunities and push notifications. Maybe this father can do what mine used to do when either through obligation or guilt, he would take me along to an event that offered drinking opportunities, and that was to allow me to bring a friend. It was like my father knew the friend would act as a proxy sitter for me and he could drink to his heart’s content. My friend and I would entertain each other, knowing there would be an exciting ride home at the end of the event.

Right now, one can go to sporting venues and see the glow of cell phones throughout the crowd. Fans are checking mail, texting friends, taking pictures, and doing all of the other things we do with that device for over two and one-half hours per day. Some, I would think, are also betting on offshore sites. When legal and regulated betting opportunities gets loaded on that device, and advertisements are used to legitimize and romanticize this activity, look for that glow of phones to grow brighter throughout the venue. Now think of the example that all of the adults are providing to their own and other children within the venue, if in fact they are even paying attention to them. It does seem that the next logical step is to provide seating for children in casinos, so that they might continue to watch their parents gamble after the game is finished.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.