New research into ‘tilting’ amongst sports bettors exposes worrying examples of gambling-related harm

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Tilting is a poker-related term, used to describe moments of emotional dysregulation, irrational, and reckless betting decisions in response to losses whilst gambling. The concept has not been investigated within a sports betting context despite there being a large cognitive and behavioural overlap between poker players and sports bettors.

The concept of emotional dysregulation and more broadly ‘tilting’ are intrinsically connected to sports betting. Sports bettors are often emotionally invested in the games they spectate and are also likely to perceive their bets as strategic or based upon skill. Therefore, when bettors begin to lose control of their emotions and begin to make less skilled and more impulsive bets (tilting), an increase in gambling-related harm may occur. 

Furthermore, the product features associated with sports betting (especially in-play betting) may facilitate tilting. For example, the ability to instantly deposit funds, or placing numerous high-odds ‘microbets’ in quick succession.

Research by the Addictions Research Group revealed three distinct profiles of sports bettors based on their reported tilting episodes and their awareness of this phenomenon. The first group were labelled ‘Conscious tilters’ due to being cognizant of their own tilting occurrence which was significantly higher than the other two groups. These ‘Conscious tilters’ had the highest mean problem gambling severity that was indicative of the ‘problem gambler’ categorisation. 

The second group were labelled ‘Unconscious tilters’ due to their underestimation of their own tilting occurrence and were categorised as ‘moderate risk gamblers’. 

The third group were labelled ‘Non-tilters’ due to a relatively accurate perception of their low to non-existent tilting occurrence and were categorised as ‘low-risk gamblers’. Additionally, there were significant differences between these groups in relation to reported gambling frequency, impulsivity, and product preferences. 

The identification of these profiles is important in directing harm-reductive measures not only to those who consciously experience the most tilting episodes and gambling related harm, but also to the much larger group who need to realise the moderate tilting and subsequent harm they experience. Therefore, the findings of this study are useful for researchers, service providers and bettors themselves. 

However, the onus of responsibility should not be placed entirely upon individuals to better understand and control their own emotions when gambling. Specific sports betting product features may be particularly facilitative of tilting indicating that better regulation around such products is necessary. With the reform of the 2005 Gambling Act set for the coming months, this research is not only current but also relevant to the required policy changes in the UK. Further research in this area is vital to mitigate harms associated with the rapidly changing sport betting environment.

This article is open-access, open science and will be delivered at this year’s Current Advances in Gambling Research (CAGR) conference (May 2022).  You can download a copy of the article here.