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In it to win it


By Raymond Gill

If you’ve watched sport on television, you can’t have missed the seemingly endless number of sports betting ads featuring groups of young men apparently having the time of their lives in social settings with a beer in one hand and a smartphone in the other.

The latest Nielsen data calculates that $287.2 million was spent on gambling advertising in Australia in 2021. That investment has seen sports betting become the fastest growing segment of the gambling market with a total of $5.5 billion spent in Australia in 2002 to 2021 and an annual growth of 4.3 per cent in the past five years.

The estimated total cost of the health, economic and social harms created by all forms of gambling including sports betting is significant, estimated in 2015 at over $7bn per year alone in the state of Victoria.

Research study context

A new research study titled In it to win it: An interdisciplinary investigation of sports betting examines how young adults use, communicate about, and experience mobile phone sports betting.

It shows how sports betting apps are normalising gambling but also how the data gathered can help us understand the potential for risks and harms.

‘Sports apps have changed the territories of gambling,’ says the project’s chief investigator, Professor Ross Gordon from QUT’s School of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations. ‘People are now able to bet anywhere, anytime and on anything.’

The interdisciplinary study recruited 50 participants aged between 18-35 (35 male and 15 female) last year who had used a sports betting app at least once in the previous six months.

Gambling and the brain

The participants were interviewed in depth about their betting, and their brain responses while placing bets and watching sport to see the outcome were measured using EEG and eye tracking. They also recorded video diaries.

Professor Gordon says measuring electrical activity in the brain showed that, when a bet was placed, there was a ‘release of emotional intensity. There is an increase in memory function and engagement. They [become] highly stimulated and visually engaged.’

‘This flow state creates the potential for loss of control…’
Professor Gordon

This cognitive neuroscientific aspect of the study revealed that some participants entered what the researchers called a ‘flow state’.

‘You don’t want to be interrupted... You’re in your comfort zone. Once you’re in the game, you’re in the game. You want to know what the end result is.’ Faye, 32

‘This flow state creates the potential for loss of control and betting in a more risky way. It can take those people into potentially dangerous territories,’ continues Professor Gordon.

As cited by some of the study participants, betting at work, in the pub, or at home impacted on their home life, relationships and responsibilities, particularly when it eats into household budgets. This in turn can lead to guilt and secrecy.

‘When I was really bad, I’d spend half my pay cheque before I’d even bloody left work, then I’d be like, “How am I going to tell my wife?”’ Eddie, 35

A ‘potent nexus’ of emotions

The sports betting companies entice customers by providing information about teams and players, the offer of multi-bets which increase the odds, and by calling or texting consumers when they have reduced their gambling to offer bonus bets.

‘Sports betting companies are being smart with their design of the apps, in-app promotions, and their marketing,’ says Professor Gordon.

‘They’ll bet just to feel something in their lives.’
Professor Gordon

‘Gamblers know there are long odds, especially for bets such as multis, but they are often doing it for other reasons.

‘They’ll bet just to feel something in their lives.’

Betting when your own team is in play can lead to a ‘potent nexus’ of passionate emotions, he says. It can also lead to ‘hedge betting’ where people gamble against their own team to offset the disappointment of a team loss.

‘I did feel more concentrated because I’ve made the bet and I’ve got to follow my team … so I was more involved.’ Zack 32


Professor Gordon raised the question of whether policy settings on sports app gambling need to be changed.

‘Should there be restrictions on apps, marketing, and promotions?’ he asks.

Changes might include the necessity for social marketing programs that challenge the normalisation of smartphone betting, and extend to offering advice on how to avoid gambling harm and access support services such as counselling and financial literacy to legal advice.

These may also include restricting marketing promotions that can induce riskier betting as well as placing more robust blocks on sports app use and encouraging spending limits.

The Foundation offers training and development opportunities in formats including seminars and courses for those who provide prevention and early intervention, treatment and support services. View past webinars or sign up for future events.

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