Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Online gambling




The phenomenon of online gambling does not stop growing year after year. Its limited regulation in many countries and the huge investments of companies in advertising have greatly expanded its public, with the problems of gambling that this entails. In addition, their strategies have been replicated in other sectors, such as videogames or social networks, with a great impact on the population.

If you are a sports fan - it is also enough not to live isolated from the world - probably this will sound: Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Rafa Nadal, Usain Bolt or any other great sports star playing quietly at poker, roulette or betting on a match. Even well-known actors have ended up in these advertising moments, prompting the consumer to play some money in their team's next game. The explosion of online gaming is a recent phenomenon, only a few years old, but progressing unstoppably. So much so that it has even gone beyond the barriers of virtual casinos or sports betting to reach the world of video games, mobile applications and social networks.





From hiding to your pocket

The game always had a mixture between marginal and glamorous. Among humble people was a way to kill the time and at the same time give a little emotion to their lives; among the high society was an excuse to play with something that was left over in abundance and take the opportunity to strengthen other assets of greater value, such as social and political relations, that was the idea of ​​the first casinos. However, seeing the amounts of money that the game moved and the disturbances and problems it generated - depending on who played - the State decided to take advantage of the wave: this is how the first national lotteries began to be created from the end of the 18th century, thanks to which the State obtained resources and, at the same time, could distribute substantial prizes in a fair manner.

However, in an attempt to control a good part of the betting pie, the countries legislated with severity the game under cover of a mixture of public health, public order and even moral issues and relegated it in some cases to certain areas -as Macao, the only place in China where it is legal- or territories with legislative autonomy, in which they decided to encourage the local economy through casinos and other forms of betting -as in Las Vegas, Atlantic City or the US Indian casinos- .

The key factor comes with the advance of time and the development of the online world. In the virtual universe, the game has found a much faster way to expand, reaching a lot more people, new audiences and in a more direct way, especially through smartphones, laptops and tablets. The result of so much encouragement and scarce training of citizenship regarding the game has been devastating: the cases of gambling and problems related to the game do not stop increasing and, what is worse, also in population groups for which until now the game It was something quite foreign, like teenagers. And this, with the consequent damage to many family economies. Thanks to this strategy, the sector continues to increase its profits and invest in advertising actions that further boost its profitability. The differentiating factor in this whole issue is not so much the background of online bets - making people play more - identical to that of bets in physical sites, but the form: a whole torpedo of behavioral economics to the waterline of our brains.


An Achilles heel called brain

There is a box with a rat inside it. Inside the box there is also a lever that, when activated, opens a hatch with food for the rodent. Obtaining your first reward is always accidental; the animal does not deduce first of all what relation there is between the elements of its box, but it learns fast. If the rat begins to press the lever repeatedly and food always falls, it is satiated and stops pressing; if you press and nothing appears, the incentives to repeat the operation are scarce and stop pressing. But, if you press and, without a fixed pattern, there are times when food comes out and others that do not, the animal presses the lever again and again as if there were no tomorrow. The rat has just become addicted to the game.




These were the conclusions reached by B. F. Skinner, one of the great psychologists of the 20th century and a fervent researcher of human behavior. The behavior of the rodent was an intermittent reinforcement of variable administration, and, without too many differences, the functioning of the human mind is practically identical. As is logical, especially in the face of receiving rewards, there are more types of behavior, but certainly this is the one that most parallels with the psychology applied to the game. Slot machines are the simplest example and close to the box in which the rat was enclosed, and the spread of these devices is widespread - some bars even have house betting machines like Sportium, Codere or bet365.

Unfortunately for humans, that our mind is more developed also implies that more sophisticated and sophisticated ways of tricking our brain have been developed, even though they all enter through that back door of intermittent reinforcement. In games with a high component of chance, like the classics of casinos-roulette or black jack-the mechanism to make us bet again and again is precisely to appeal to that intermittence in the reward: winning or losing is practically a matter of statistics and not skill. From now on, other cognitive biases will also join that will end up shaping the psychological cocktail from which online gambling houses are nourished, with enormous benefit.

It is not advisable to deduce that the desire to play has two positions, like a lock: open or closed. The human mind is very complex and the conditioning factors that act as potentiators or attenuators of these situations are numerous. In addition, these mental processes are at different times of our day to day and in different ways, without practically all of the population suffer addictions, although it is clear that in many people there is a more pronounced consumption of certain platforms that flirt with These stimuli, like social networks. Perhaps this is why exploiting this gap is relatively easy for many brands that live by betting and gambling. Whether through the press, radio, television and, of course, the internet, a large part of the public is exposed to a torrent of information, offers and notifications that, in one way or another, incite some money to be played in a roulette, a bingo, a poker game, etc. It is the great way they have to attract customers: make believe that it is enormously easy to make money, that it is the player who has control of the situation and not the house. And for this they resort to a multitude of promotions, from covering the first losses to offering better quotas.


Soccer as the new winning horse

It is in the sporting aspect where the gaming companies have invested the most, since there is an almost infinite variety of events, a much wider public and less socially stigmatized - to post a game is usually perceived as a way to give more excitement to the game -. Likewise, the development of the online world has allowed bets and meetings to go rhythmically, so bets, being practically live, grant a much more instant reward and, therefore, more intense.




Online bets have in Europe football as a favorite reef. The number of matches that can be if we count the different leagues -with their respective divisions- and national and continental tournaments amounts to thousands, and within each of them you can bet, in turn, to variables such as what the team will be in make more corners, which player will take the first yellow card of the game or if the last goal of the match will occur in the time of discount. The possibilities are endless. However, the world of football does not exclude that houses also cover basketball, especially the NBA, Formula 1, tennis and a list as endless as unlikely sports, from cricket matches to games of darts. And this without taking into account the geographical scope, practically unlimited. Would you like to play the money in a modest match of the Croatian men's league or the unknown Slovak women's league? No problem. Are you following a cyber sports team -more known as eSports- participating in a tournament of the video game family Counter Strike? Ahead. And, if we continue to extend, we also get awards such as the Oscars, the Emmys or even be able to bet who will win certain elections. The universe of bets has no end, and in the universe there are also black holes.

The emptiness, or the laxity, legal in terms of online betting, something that does not apply to other types of gambling - such as physical casinos or television games, a phenomenon in clear decline in Europe - has been one of the main culprits in its proliferation. This situation has caused that the online brands have taken advantage of the vacuum to start announcing in tromba in all types of platforms, whether television, radio, internet and even the football team jerseys. It is not strange that before a meeting begins or during the break, the quotas given by a certain house - sponsor of the space - are offered according to the result.


These bets have transcended the profile of the traditional player - a middle-aged man - to open up to virtually any type of sports consumer, including teenagers. Although the laws have managed to be efficient in preventing the access of minors to physical gambling, they can not boast of success in the online game. The controls to prevent minors from betting are practically nonexistent and, if they exist, they are very simple to flank - it is enough, for example, to register fraudulently with the data of any adult, since in most cases They are not checked. And this if we stay in the field of the virtual. In the real world, betting houses and bingo halls, with their door and their striking sign, have colonized crowded streets - almost always in humble neighborhoods - in a subtle message of being the place where luck can change, getting poor and leaving Rich in a matter of minutes. That illusion almost never becomes real, and often the opposite often happens: leaving with less money than the one you entered.

This, in turn, is causing a reaction in some countries. Italy has decided to put an end to the freedom with which houses move online and take them to a restricted area, like the rest of the bets. Spain has also been aligned in this regard and the advertising of online bets will be heavily regulated from 2019. In other countries, the debate is stretched and becomes increasingly important.


Video games get on the bandwagon

The success of these online gambling houses has been such that the logic behind their achievements has begun to be replicated in other areas not directly related to games of chance, such as video games. This, although it has granted enormous benefits to brands and studios, has transferred many processes linked to gambling to audiences that until then hardly had any contact with the game, such as children and adolescents. Such is the case that Belgium and the Netherlands have begun cataloging some well-known video games as products closer to casinos than to mere and healthy digital entertainment. Some regulation is even being proposed at European level to try to limit this situation and the World Health Organization has decided to include videogames as cause of disorders, although this is also due to a myopic approach of the organism. Because, far from criminalizing video games as the cause of evil, the problem is never in them, but, in this case, in a very specific part: the so-called loot boxes.




These 'rewards boxes' follow the same logic as the mouse experiment: benefits - weapons, coins, appearances, points or any other value device - granted in a random way, so that the player feels that emotion and constant encouragement to continue looking for a way to collect its fruits. This way of monetizing the games has been widely used in those of free download, either for phones, game consoles or computers. Here they enter from the Candy Crush to the Clash of Clans, Hearthstone or Fortnite. But also in the games of payment have appeared this type of practices. The most flagrant case is that of FIFA 18. Although until a few editions its star game modes were the single-player, no-need-to-connect race mode and a quite aseptic online multiplayer, in recent installments it has been developing a function, called Ultimate Team -'definitive team'-, based, among other things, on opening envelopes of players and rewards generated in a random way. These envelopes go by levels - the most basic envelopes, with the worst rewards, are very common, while the top-level envelopes are much more difficult to obtain, a dynamic that also reaches collectible sticker envelopes - and leave practically as the only way possible to get the best players pay with real money for those envelopes or for the coins that allow you to unlock the envelopes.

The issue is that these practices are generating gambling problems in very young people and significant financial setbacks in many families, who see in a surprising way how some of their offspring have spent a fortune on online rewards. This is an underlying problem: society barely pays attention to it -in its majority, because it does not know that it exists- and online gambling companies clearly win the game thanks to their gigantic investments in advertising and even position themselves as actors. committed to the fight against the damage that their activity causes in society. However, the promotion of responsible gaming, rather than a brake on its activity, serves to use public platforms and whitewash their image, influence future public policies and instrumentalize public studies on the issue to their benefit.

This snowball is far from stopping. The outlook suggests that it will continue to increase in size. It is difficult to put a brake or be aware of the dangers that entail some logic after this phenomenon when the new generations have internalized as something natural and old have yielded in many respects-largely due to ignorance. In the end, the notifications on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook are exactly the same: claims for you to give back to the lever and feel better if you announce a new interaction.



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