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Wins and losses can pile up when betting

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — With legal sports betting in its fifth year in much of the U.S., things are getting much more intense, with increasing ways to bet and more opportunities to rapidly win — and lose — money.

When the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams kicked off the NFL season Thursday night against the Buffalo Bills, 31 U.S. states plus Washington, D.C., offered legal sports betting. A record 46.6 million Americans say they plan to bet on the upcoming NFL season, up 3 percent from last year, according to the American Gaming Association.

Ohio is readying to launch sports betting Jan. 1. Last week, one of the two locations in Mahoning that applied to have a sports book for online and in-person betting — Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course — was granted a license.

The Ohio Casino Control Commission on Wednesday also granted licenses to several businesses in Trumbull and Mahoning counties to offer betting kiosks. Some businesses already had approval.

This year’s games will become the focus of the most intense scrutiny yet by gamblers.

This is due to the rapid rise of so-called microbetting, the ability to place wagers on outcomes as narrowly targeted as whether the next play will be a run or a pass, how many yards will it gain, or whether the drive results in a punt, a touchdown, a turnover or something else.

It’s the fastest-growing segment of legal sports betting, and while it encourages sportsbooks, it has those who treat compulsive gambling worried that the opportunity to make rapid-fire bets, one after the other over the course of a three-hour game, will create new problems for gamblers or worsen the addiction of those who already have a problem.

Microbetting “is a must-have to be a competitor in this space,” said Matt Prevost, chief revenue officer for BetMGM. Between 40 percent to 65 percent of all bets his company takes on football come after the opening kickoff.

In Ohio, microbets and other forms of in-game betting are generally permitted by House Bill 29, the bill that legalized sports gaming in the state.

The commission hasn’t approved the catalogue of wagers and events, but expects to do so this year, said Jessica Franks, commission spokeswoman.

“The commission is aware of concerns related to problem gambling with these types of bets, and is committed to ensuring appropriate RG (responsible gambling) messaging and procedures are followed by operators,” she wrote in an email.

Also, sports governing bodies and proprietors will be able to request that certain wagers and / or event types be added or prohibited from the catalogue, she said.

Johnny Avello, director of race and sports for DraftKings, said his company is concentrating more on microbetting offerings this fall.

“We’re going to have more markets like betting on the next play, who’s going to carry the ball, how many yards it will gain,” he said. “We’ve found that those are equally as popular as who’s going to win the game or the total amount scored.”

Miami-based Betr is going beyond that. It launched its microbetting app on Sept. 1 and minces no words about what it soon will offer the gambling public: “Instant gratification.”

In baseball, its app lets users wager on each pitch: How fast it will be, whether it’s a ball or a strike; or whether it gets put into play.

Joey Levy, the company’s founder and CEO, called its product “a glimpse into the future of sports betting in the U.S. — an instant gratification focus to betting delivered in a simple, intuitive user experience that anyone can enjoy, even if they have not bet on sports before.”

The company’s app is currently in use for free-play only; Betr plans to take real money bets in numerous states as soon as they obtain licenses and regulatory approvals.

Established sports betting companies including FanDuel and DraftKings started taking real-money microbets in recent years.

In baseball, for example, FanDuel, which is the official odds provider for The Associated Press, lets gamblers bet on whether the first pitch of a baseball game will be a ball or a strike, whether it will result in a hit or an out, or some other result. DraftKings takes bets on how many pitches a batter will see in a given at-bat, and has dabbled in pitch speed wagers. But it currently limits its baseball microbets to batter-to-batter predictions.

Microbetting is an incredibly fast way to rack up wins — and losses.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, says people placing microbets are at higher risk of developing a gambling disorder.

“The ability to place more bets, more quickly is a risk factor for any type of gambling,” he said. “Now with microbetting, impulsivity and instant gratification is promoted as a selling point.”

Whyte said continuous microbetting not only discourages responsible gambling behavior — like taking breaks and never chasing losses — but is also likely to appeal to those who already have gambling problems.

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