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Matched betting can be a scary concept to those who have not tried it. Even if you’ve got your head around the core concept, it can still seem too good to be true and a potential gateway into something most people, (especially us!) loathe – gambling.
This is one of, if not the, biggest elephants in the room when it comes to matched betting. It’s also one that matched betting struggles to address. Not because there is any validity to the notion that matched betting can lead to gambling addiction, but because matched betting is so intrinsically linked to the world of gambling, that untangling the two can be remarkably difficult.
The question as to whether matched betting can potentially lead to gambling addiction ultimately comes from a position of genuine concern and often from those that have experienced, either first or second-hand, the devastation that is created by gambling addiction.
So, the difficulty of answering this question should not lead to us avoiding the issue entirely. Because not only does it deserve to be answered, it needs to be answered in order to extract matched betting from this notion of leading to addiction – a notion which is very much undeserved.
What is gambling?
The root cause of this question is a problem that admittedly matched betting has brought on itself. That being its name. Just having the word ‘Betting’ present, draws understandable comparisons to the gambling industry. Now, whilst this does not exactly address the question posed, it is nevertheless an important place to start – because it’s important we understand the true definition of gambling before attempting to explain why matched betting is completely detached from it and the addiction that can come with it.
- the activity or practice of playing at a game of chance for money or other stakes.
- the act or practice of risking the loss of something important by taking a chance or acting recklessly
The most important take-away from this is the fact that the lack of determined result creates the risk. Risk, when coupled with rewarding stimuli (the possibility of your bet winning), triggers the part of the brain associated with addiction.
“Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences”
The risk exists in gambling because the outcome is not predetermined. You cannot possibly know the outcome of a bet you place in a bookmaker at the time of placing it. It’s this, combined with the potential winnings, that lights up the part of the brain associated with drug and alcohol addiction which, in turn, can easily lead to outright addiction in gambling.
Of course, some people are more prone than others due to multiple factors ranging from genetic to environmental. However, the science on the core ingredients needed to cause addiction is conclusive – Risk and Reward.
We can safely conclude that addiction thrives in risk and undetermined but enticing reward. So, what happens when we put matched betting and its practices next to this definition?
Does matched betting have risk and reward?
Let’s start with ‘risk’. Risk comes (in part) from the unknown. If you’re taking an action where something is at stake but the outcome is not known, it’s of course considered risky. With matched betting, we are applying mathematics to betting odds in order to ensure a profitable outcome regardless of result. That means betting on something to both ‘occur’ and ‘not occur’. Remember, the entire ethos of matched betting is to make money but never lose it. Below is an example of a £20 free bet that I placed using matched betting recently.
Now, as you can see from the outcome box at the bottom, regardless as to whether the bet won or lost in the bookmaker, I’d make £16.40. I knew what this bet would make me before I placed it. Which, of course, means that there’s no risk because the outcome is known and no money would be lost. Thus, there is nothing to trigger the part of your brain related to addiction. In matched betting the reward is not only moderate but also known and the risk is non-existent. So, both the major factors behind addiction do not exist in matched betting.
Every action you take as a matched bettor is designed to be risk adverse. There is nothing left to chance with matched betting. This brings us nicely onto our next point which, whilst not particularly scientific, is very much worth mentioning.
Gamblers hate matched betting
It’s true, gamblers hate matched betting. They cannot understand why people do it because they find it boring. There is no dopamine hit from placing a bet using matched betting techniques. As many gamblers have said to me: ‘Matched betting sucks the fun out of gambling’. Whilst they may see this as insult, I do not. Matched betting is not fun for the very reasons that make it a safe money-making endeavour – it’s the art of moderate profit gained steadily and consistently over time with no risk or chance involved. Gamblers don’t understand why you would do something that did not have the possibility of making you ‘loads’ of money instantly because their brains have been rewired to seek this risk/reward balance. If you matched bet, your brain reacts in the exact opposite way.
There is the temptation to say that matched betting could help re-wire an individuals’ brain who has previously been addicted to gambling. In theory the idea is no different to nicotine patches. However, there is no concrete scientific study behind this so let’s not get carried away!
With all that said, if you have ever had/have a gambling problem, the very act of being near a bookmaker site may provoke old habits regardless as to whether you are matched betting or not. So, for this reason, you should just steer clear of anything gambling related altogether.
However, to use this as an argument for why everyone should avoid it is completely false. Anything can be a gateway to something; alcohol a gateway to alcoholism, sugary foods a gateway to obesity, a store card a gateway to a shopping addiction, a bank loan a gateway to debt and so on. But does that mean we should all stop doing these things because they can have a dark side for a small minority? To put this into the context of matched betting it is like us saying: Drinking alcohol [gambling] can lead to alcoholism [gambling addiction], which means that no one should walk into a bar [bookmaker website] where alcohol is served. This is, of course, ridiculous. Everything has another side. That said, if anyone suggested they may be the type to fall to this ‘other side’ we would immediately recommend them avoiding matched betting.
So, I think we can safely say that matched betting is not gambling and never will be. Small, incremental profits (typically £30 per offer for example), even though they’re guaranteed, aren’t as sexy a proposition for our dopamine-craving brain, as that £10,000 accumulator win. There is also strong evidence that matched betting does not trigger parts of the brain related to addiction and may in fact promote areas of the brain that make addiction less likely.
Perhaps many MoneyMagpie readers have never gambled in their lives due to the fear of addiction and have a risk averse nature. This is good (not gambling, anyway) and, as this article has hopefully explained, is exactly why you shouldn’t be worried about matched betting.
There is obviously a lot more to this topic than can possibly be covered in a single article. So, we’d be more than happy to answer any questions and continue the discussion below in the comments.
If you or anyone you know is affected by gambling addiction, visit GamCare.