Along with seeing sports games in person these days, fans in Ontario are also able to bet on those games as a new gambling system comes into play in the province.
Legal single-game sports betting arrived on April 4 as Ontario launched its iGaming market, allowing registered private gambling operators to offer single-game sports betting to anyone 19 and older in the province.
But while the new system comes with some protections, experts say consumers still need to be cautious of how the use of sports betting apps can lead to addictive behaviours and greater financial loss than anticipated.
Companies currently have a certain amount of money they’re willing to invest to acquire new customers. That means they might provide “free money,” such as in the form of $50 sign-up and referral bonuses for new customers to use while gambling on their apps.
“It creates the illusion for consumers that they are in a windfall position when actuality it's incentivizing them to increase their behaviour and gamifies a potentially very addictive activity,” said Mike Naraine, assistant professor of sports management at Brock University.
And while many might feel safe gambling because they're not putting down big sums, it's through micro transactions that average customers will likely be hit most, and possibly be at risk of addiction, said Naraine.
Single-game sports betting not only allows gambling on the outcome of an NHL matchup. There are also bets within a game, such as the score at the end of the first period, how many goals or points a specific player earns, or how many saves a goaltender makes.
“So if you bet 50 cents here, $1 there, $2 there, the next thing you know when you’re looking at accumulated losses, its actually quite steep. But for the consumer, the psychology of 'I’m only betting 50 cents or a dollar,' doesn’t seem like a big deal,” Naraine said.
Harvey Marmurek, professor of psychology at the University of Guelph, noted that the accreditation process requires providers to promote responsible sports betting, but these efforts might get complicated given the number of platforms available to sports gamblers.
“Responsible gambling on one platform may mask irresponsible gambling across platforms,” he said.
For example, while gamblers might set up a betting limit on one platform and receive feedback once that limit is hit, or even a time delay as when they can increase that limit, they can also use other platforms and set the same or different limits there.
Unless there is cross-platform monitoring, the gambling limits across different platforms can add up.
This could be a concern since sports bettors are shown to be more impulsive than non-sports bettors, according to a study published by Marmurek in April 2021. He and his team also found that sports betters are more likely than non-sports gamblers to report harms related to finances and health.
Sports bettors scored higher on “problem gambling severity,” which is measured by problem gambling behaviours such as chasing losses and by adverse consequences like losing money.
Marmurek noted, however, that sports bettors engaged in more gambling activities overall than non-sports gamblers.
To help prevent problem gambling, Naraine advises gamblers to only bet what they’re willing to lose.
Often, gamblers will set aside “play money,” such as $200 for example, but then start to upload more money once they start losing and that amount dips. So, it’s important to be cognizant of that habit and stick to your original intention or only add money that you wouldn’t mind losing.
Another piece of advice is to not stray into the casino side of these apps, Naraine said. In addition to sport betting, many of these apps provide a casino platform for gamblers to play virtual roulette, blackjack and other traditional table games.
While sports betting has time constraints around a set amount of games per day, the casino options in the apps allow people to play as much as they want and at any time of day.
“It’s a surefire way to lose your money faster,” he said.
Lastly, Naraine advises consumers to limit their apps to one or two gambling operators instead of downloading five, six or seven. That’s because users are exposing themselves to increased marketing activity from multiple providers.
“The way that iGaming legislation is set up is that these gambling providers can’t contact anyone unless the person self-enrols into their marketing activity. And you essentially do that when you download the app and log into the system,” Naraine said.
Once these apps have your information, they may send you free bets and other promotions which are designed to incentivize further gambling. By enrolling in fewer apps, you reduce the amount of marketing attempts that might push you into gambling more.
But while the legalization of single-sports betting may create financial hazards for some, Naraine said that the change does also bring oversight to something that was already going on in the province.
“It does create an opportunity for more people to play, but I would also say it’s better to have the flashlight on the situation as opposed to thinking that if we don’t legalize it, no one will do it."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2022.
Leah Golob, The Canadian Press