Why you should care
The ability to bet on points within matches appeals most to people who may have a serious gambling problem.
In just the last three months, at least seven U.S. states have legalized sports betting, joining the 10 that already have state regulation industries in place. As legalized sports betting continues to roll out across the United States, betting technology is innovating too. The latest? Microbetting, where users don’t just wager on the outcome of a game but on individual points or even small events within matches.
For now, it’s confined to just a few sports, but soon there could be widespread betting on things like possession in a basketball game or the result of each and every snap in football. Unfortunately, such wagers could be preying on people who are vulnerable to the industry: people with gambling addictions. In fact, a study last year found that …
78 percent of microbetters met the criteria for problem gambling.
That’s based on a survey of more than 1,800 Australian sports betters published in the Journal of Gambling Studies. Only 5 percent of those surveyed met the criteria for non-problematic gambling (the rest were considered at low or moderate risk for problem gambling). Compare that to regular sports betting, where 29 percent met the criteria for problem gambling and 28 percent for non-problem gambling. Only 5 percent were non-problem gamblers, while the remaining 17 percent fell under the category of low-risk and moderate-risk gamblers.
“One of the hallmarks of people who experience problems from sports betting is that they’re impulsive,” said Dr. Alex Russell, one of the leading researchers of this study. “Microbetting encourages impulsively betting, which encourages them to get out of control.” He says one of the key reasons for this is that there can be no lag time between bets, which makes it easy for a player to start chasing their loses — a defining characteristic of problem gambling.
In-play betting, and thus microbetting, is banned from legal online operators in Australia, but just like in the United States, players are able to access non-government-regulated gambling products via offshore sportsbook operators.
It’s a different story in the United Kingdom. The U.K. Gambling Commission acknowledged in a 2016 report that while in-play betting may pose some issues related to transparency, integrity and harm within the medium, the commission does not see a reason for in-play to be regulated more than traditional forms of sports betting. Because it’s relatively new, there is limited research on in-play betting and even less on microbetting.
The first instances of in-play betting in the U.K. appeared in the late 1990s and were done over the phone, but online operations have allowed for this type of betting to really take off. A 2019 study of the U.K. found that 23 percent of online gamblers have placed an in-play bet — down from 25 percent in 2016. But while this may not be the most popular form of betting for every player, U.K. sports betting operator Bet365 reported in 2015 that 80 percent of its sports betting revenue came from in-play bets.
Elizabeth Killick, a reacher at Nottingham Trent University who studies sports betting, says about a quarter of the world’s gambling websites offer in-play betting — but that it could increase rapidly as the American sports betting market grows. Until recently, Nevada was the only state in the U.S. to allow legal sports gambling. In 2017, Nick Bogdanovich, director of the William Hill Sportsbook, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that 22 percent of their handle came from in-play betting.
After the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was overturned last year, sportsbook operators in other states began to legally implement sports gambling. Several operators offer in-play betting, on which there are few regulations so far, but one of the most advanced microbetting products to legally enter the United States market is DraftKings’ Flash Bet, which was released just before the start of Wimbledon this year, and is available in Mississippi and New Jersey. For now, it only allows bets on tennis — with users able to wager on individual points — but company officials have said it could expand to other sports in the future.
“We’ve heard, for example, DraftKings say publicly they want to be the leader in responsible gambling,” says Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “I think to be a leader, you’ve got to go way above what’s required. And right now, I don’t see that.” Some steps Whyte said U.S. gambling operators could take to help problem gamblers, especially in light of emerging technology, include implementing software that alerts players that they are exhibiting the behavior of problem gambling and offers them resources.
That doesn’t mean companies like DraftKings have not taken measures to keep their players safe. According to company spokesperson Randy Crader, player safety is “paramount” to the company’s mission. They’ve already implemented some self-regulatory tools: For example, players can pre-set their own limits for how much money they can bet and upload to DraftKings within a certain same period. They can also add themselves to a self-exclusion list or set a cooling-off period that bans them from betting with DraftKings for as long as five years. Furthermore, Crader says DraftKings is proactively monitoring for problem gamblers by keeping an eye on player data.
Still, according to Whyte, that data could be key to additional research on the issue. “If you truly believe that these folks are at no additional risk, you should be able to show that to us pretty easily or show it to qualified third-party researchers,” he says. “It’s trust … but verify.”