I’ve been known to drop a few bucks at the track or at a friendly poker game. I’ll even buy a lottery ticket now and then. So I’m no bluenose when it comes to gambling. But the increasing popularity of online gambling bother me a lot. It’s simply too easy to drop money when all you have to do is jump on the Web or open an app.
And it’s getting easier. On Tuesday New Jersey legalized online gambling, the third state to do so. On the same day, a committee of the Pennsylvania State Senate voted unanimously to study the idea, and Congress will be holding hearings on the controversial issue in 2014.
A new report from the analysts at Juniper, a research house, got me thinking about the issue. The report predicts the popularity of Internet gambling will grow exponentially in the next five years and that one of the biggest drivers will be the proliferation of mobile devices. Juniper believes that there were approximately 63 million unique users of mobile gambling services worldwide in 2013. By 2018 that number will grow by about 100 million, and most of the increase will be in North America, according to the report.
We’ve had some discussions about the report here at CIO, and there’s some feeling that it’s irrelevant if you gamble via a PC or a mobile device. Online gambling is online gambling, and if you’re online it doesn’t matter how you got there. I disagree and so do the authors of the study. “All advantages and drivers that favor the growth of fixed Internet gambling also apply to mobile gambling,” they wrote. “Moreover, the mobile platform has certain inherent advantages, such as convenience and larger potential market as compared to the fixed Internet.”
Gambling, like suicide, is often an impulsive act. If you get the urge to wager and have to go back home to the office to get online, there’s a good chance you won’t bother. But if all you have to do is open an app on your tablet or smartphone, there’s a much greater chance that you’ll follow through on the impulse.
“As mobiles are largely with their users 24/7, it means that, connectivity permitting, those users are theoretically always able to buy a lottery ticket, place a bet or play a remote game of poker, or partake of in-game/in-play betting,” says the report. As I said, it will be very easy to act on that impulse, particularly when the casinos and gambling sites move away from clunky Web interfaces to apps.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says online gambling will bring in $1 billion in tax revenue by July. Sure, his state could use the revenue, but is it really a good idea to make it so easy for people, particularly those who can’t afford it, to lose large sums of money in a very short period of time?
Mobile technology isn’t the issue here. It’s just one more way in which smartphones and tablets are changing our lives and how we interact with the world. Many, maybe most, of those changes are for the better. This one isn’t. Let’s hope that other states do the right thing and keep online gambling from spreading.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.