How Associative Learning and Reinforcement Schedules Might Apply to a Mobile Gambling Game

mobile gambling game

A mobile gambling game is a smartphone application that allows players to play casino games or sports bets on their phones. It has the potential to make gambling much more accessible to people who may not have access to traditional casinos or internet-based online gaming platforms. This is mainly due to advances in technology that allow mobile phones to run high-definition graphics and processing capabilities. In addition, there have also been improvements in data connections that allow mobile phones to function offline or with faster download speeds.

The proliferation of these technologies means that gambling behaviour is increasingly being conducted via mobile devices. However, the unique behavioural patterns associated with mobile technology (e.g., short bouts of interaction, interspersed with longer periods of inactivity) suggest that mobile gambling behaviour has the potential to be particularly impulsive and perseverative. In this paper, we consider the ways in which the behavioural literature on associative learning and reinforcement schedules might apply to mobile gambling, and identify some atypical features of this type of play.

Mobile gambling has become a major source of revenue for betting operators, with many of the biggest bookmakers reporting significant increases in profits from this sector over the past few years. These growth figures are likely to be driven by the emergence of new forms of mobile gambling, such as in-play betting, as well as by the continuing rise in popularity of smartphone-based games generally.

These trends highlight the importance of understanding the nature of mobile gambling behaviour in order to inform its design and promotion. Currently, the majority of mobile gambling apps are designed to provide users with the opportunity to place bets on sporting events. However, the development of casino-style games for mobile devices has the potential to introduce new, atypical patterns of behaviour that could have implications for how we think about the risk and harm of gambling.

To investigate this, we tested participants’ responses to a simulated mobile gambling app, which employed a random ratio schedule of reinforcement. We then tracked their behaviour during the acquisition and extinction phases of the experiment, by capturing contextual information about their location and activity on the device (including other apps that were used prior to, and intended after, using the simulated gambling app) and GPS co-ordinates each time they pressed a button on the app. Participants were required to explicitly opt-in to the use of these contextual and behavioural data, and were informed that they could change their device settings to prevent the collection of this information.

The behavioural and cognitive data were analysed using computational modelling and regression techniques, and the findings were discussed in terms of their implications for mobile gambling behaviour. The results indicated that the simulated gambling app was able to induce a high degree of persistence in participants, and that this was largely mediated by a combination of factors, including the timing of reinforcements and non-reinforcement events with structural and aesthetic similarities to wins. These observations raise concerns about the suitability of the current gamification paradigm for encouraging gambling behaviour, and highlight the need to develop more personalised and targeted methods of intervention.