1 December 2022
Alexandre Haslin, Maria Rigas
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Sports betting: skill, chance, and addiction

Online gambling grew strongly during the pandemic. Among these online games: sports betting. As with any other game of money and chance, it is possible to lose control and develop an addiction. For most, sports betting can be an occasional and social activity between friends, but for others, it can become problematic.


The omnipresence of online platforms

These past years, online sports betting platforms have multiplied. Not only are they more numerous than ever, but many invest heavily in advertising to entice new and old gamblers alike. In Québec, the only legal online platform is that of Loto-Québec, Mise-O-Jeu. However, many others, considered to be illegal have no problem operating on this territory and advertising their sites. «Almost every gambler tells us that there are too many ads, that they are an incentive to gamble. » explains Sylvia Kairouz, Professor and Research Chair on Gambling Studies at Concordia University, quoting a recent study she held online with 98 gamblers.

«Numerous loyalty strategies […] can increase the risk of developing problems. »

A large part of the advertisements is about platforms other than Loto-Québec. Quoting the same study, Mrs. Kairouz relates that «At least 40% of participants only gamble on platforms other than Loto-Québec. » Others combine Loto-Québec and illegal platforms. «These sites are potentially more damaging for gamblers because there are no guidelines» explains Andrée-Anne Légaré, Adjunct Professor at Université de Sherbrooke. «Their model is strictly commercial. Numerous loyalty strategies, such as free games, can increase the risk of developing problems. »

Another risk factor: these online betting platforms are gateways to other forms of gambling. Sylvia Kairouz explains: «By going on these platforms, some gamblers wish to only take part in one activity, but these sites, including that of Loto-Québec offer lots of other activities. Therefore, gamblers learn about other types of games. » A model that can lead to losing control.


Sports betting: a «social» activity

Contrary to other games of money and chance, sports betting has a «social» component since it can be done in a group, in a social gathering. For Sylvia Kairouz, the group effect can be both positive and negative. In a social context, bets can be placed without harm; we get together, we discuss, we bet. The game is an activity among others, without it being the focus. «There can even be a type of social control. For example, we all decide to bet the same amount. We do not let one bet more than another. There is a protective effect against excess. »

«The social aspect can create a type of conditioning. »

 In other cases, it is the opposite. «There can be a conditioning effect. It is the same dynamic than that in front of a VLT; we are in the zone; we get carried away by the moment. » That is what Andrée-Anne Légaré confirms using the example of hockey pools, extremely popular in Québec. « The social aspect can create a type of conditioning. When someone with a gambling problem wants to stop, there is negotiation. They can choose to put an end to a certain bet but still participate in a hockey pool to not be excluded. » A type of social pressure that pushes to always have a foot in the game even if certain people would prefer to avoid temptation altogether. It is because sport betting, as the name suggests, is steeped in a sports culture that tends to value competition, challenges, team spirit or exceeding limits. Such values, when applied to gambling, can at a certain point, encourage excess with harmful consequences.


A matter of skill rather than chance?

Betting on the victory or loss of a team during the game: is it really chance? After all, proper knowledge of sports can enable us to «bet better» and thus increase our chances of winning. Knowing the team’s starting season, the composition of the team, the players performances during the season, injuries, the level of the rival team…. such information can help predict the outcome and thus make a good bet. But is it really that easy?

«We do not always just bet on the game, but also on the number of goals, for example. […] Therefore, it can quickly become a question of chance rather than knowledge. »

 First off, when the information is too obvious and for example, a certain team is the uncontested favorite, the number of players to bet on gets multiplied and the winnings are less. People are thus pushed to bet more or riskier in the hopes of pocketing better winnings. That is not all, the nature of the bets has also changed «We do not always just bet on the game» explains Sylvia kairouz, « but also on the number of goals, for example. We can also make micro-bets during the game. Therefore, it can quickly become a question of chance rather than knowledge. » Some platforms push the concept of «sports betting» even further by offering to bet on the colour a commentator’s tie, for example. «At the end of the day, the bottom line is negative, we lose more than we win. » concludes Mrs. Kairouz.


Help resources still rarely solicited

There are very few gamblers who have lost control of their sports betting who seek help. «Gamblers do not really consider sports betting as being a game of money and chance. » explains Andrée-Anne Légaré. Even if we are talking more about different gambling addictions, «for sports betters, it not obvious it is the same type of problem. »

«The idea remains that it is an activity between friends, for fun. It is harder to admit needing help. »

Gil Bellemare, Counselor at Gambling: Help and Referral concurs. « In the last 10-15 years, we have been talking more about the risk of gambling addiction. Recently, we have become more interested in internet addiction. Regarding sports betting, we are starting to realise that people can develop problems, the perception is changing. However, the idea remains that it is an activity between friends, for fun. It is harder to admit needing help. »

Yet, there is help. «We must continue to talk about this type of addiction and the resources that exist. » he adds. The counselors at Gambling: Help and Referral are there to help gamblers in need. Requests for help with this type of gambling are well below other games of money and chance. In fact, sports betting is sixth, behind poker.

Some people wishing to speak with other gamblers are referred to Gamblers Anonymous. » explains Mr. Bellemare. «We also refer many to the Public Addiction Centers (Centres de réadaptation en dépendance (CRD).  Counselors at the CRD will be able to determine where the gamblers find themselves regarding gambling, why gambling is taking up so much space in their lives, what their triggers are, etc., and help them regain control. »

If you feel you are losing control over sports betting or are worried about a loved one, you are not alone: call us at 1-800-461-0140 or use the chat, bottom right. We provide personalized support and information and can refer you towards resources best suited to your situation. Our services are available 24/7.

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