Across the globe, a large number of mobile gambling applications are available, offering users a wide range of games to choose from. These apps allow players to place bets on games and win real money. They are a great way to spend time on the go and can be accessed from any location using a smartphone or tablet computer.
Several studies have highlighted the advantages that smartphones have over traditional computers for delivering a richer gambling environment. These include the range of sensors they provide and more sophisticated hardware, which can be used to deliver a more personal and interactive experience.
These characteristics have a potential to distinguish mobile gambling from other forms of interactive gambling and raise questions about its suitability for use by problem gamblers. Moreover, these features might also pose a risk of harm to those who use mobile devices to play, a new population that could be at higher risk than existing groups.
This study explored the potential for mobile gambling to be especially addictive by examining behavioural patterns during phases of acquisition and extinction in a simulated gambling app. We found evidence of considerable perseverance during a pre-programmed extinction period in the face of continued losses, a finding that was linearly related to prior engagement with the app.
Furthermore, we found that persistent gamblers were more likely to have experienced non-reinforcing events, including near-misses and PRPs, a pattern which is known to be associated with learning and subsequent behaviours in laboratory slot machine gambling (Clark et al., 2012).
Although some of these patterns are already well established in the behavioural literature, more research is needed to explore their relationships with harmful behaviours. Our findings indicate that mobile gambling can be particularly susceptible to these effects, a finding that may be especially important for regulators of this emerging technology, and suggests a need for better understanding of the underlying psychological mechanisms that drive addictive behaviour.
In addition, our findings suggest that smartphones can be an effective tool for assessing the effect of gambling on associative processes, a crucial feature of problematic gambling and a factor that has been implicated in the development of gambling addictions. We argue that this makes smartphones a valuable tool for exploring the relationship between technology and addictive behaviours, both for collecting data and for studying the consequences of behavioural changes over time.