When it comes to modern technology one sure assumption is that someone is going to figure out a way to bet with it. No doubt that shortly after the invention of the wheel there was Neanderthal racing. It is no coincidence that dice players “throw those bones” since that was what dice actually were for thousands of years.
One of the first things that Thomas Edison’s motion picture camera was used for was to settle an age-old bet about whether all four horse’s hooves leave the ground when running. Moses Annenberg founded one of America’s largest publishing empires on profits made sending racing results over telegraph wires. There was already a regulatory body in place governing online casinos in 1994 at a time when most people did not even have dial-up service and had never heard of the Internet.
So it will surprise no one that a gambling application – developed by the venerable British gambling company Ladbrokes that took Queen Victoria’s action back in the day – was ready to go even before Apple shipped its first Apple Watches. The world’s simplest interface permitted betting on horse races and sporting events directly from tiny screens on the wrists of the first Apple Watch owners.
Technology moves fast but it will never outrun gambling. Remember bitcoin, the attempt to introduce a decentralized digital currency? It was introduced in 2009 but made no waves until a sudden burst of speculation in 2012 sent prices soaring. By 2013 the obituary for the cryptocurrency was already being written in financial publications. Bitcoins have lost about 85% of their peak value but you can still gamble in dozens of online bitcoin casinos with hundreds of games.
That is because the industry that deals in games of chance never takes the chance to miss taking a bet. Take interactive television (iTV), for example. The world saw its first iTV in the late 1990s in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, England and France. Interactive television gave viewers a chance to do things like vote for programs that could air and vote on how plots should unfold in shows. Interactive television has never gained much traction since, as Marshall McLuhan astutely observed, television is the ultimate “cool” medium that demands nothing of the viewer but to watch. But one thing that plays well on European iTV is gambling with live horse racing and interactive bingo and live lottery drawings.
The vast majority of gambling away from brick-and-mortar betting windows has been done online since those virtual casinos were introduced in the 1990s. Most of those bets were placed on a desktop computer but when smartphones arrived the industry was not caught napping. Very quickly more than 100 online casinos were taking action on mobile devices. By 2013 it was estimated that one in five iPhones had a sports betting app downloaded and ready to bet – and that is without the United States market.
These days many sportsbooks take more than half of all their action from a mobile device. No one needed to search hard for an explanation – people want to bet and the more access they are provided, the more they bet. The convenience of mobile devices has led industry observers to make giddy double-digit projections about future growth.
Observers of the smartwatch market are not nearly so optimistic. Critics are still not sure about the functionality the little gizmo on the wrist will actually provide. Don’t be surprised, however, if you hear gambling mentioned as one of the benefits of the Apple Watch. After all, punters now do not have to waste all that time digging into a pocket or a purse to make that next bet. The sports betting windows are always open on the wrist.
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(Remember to gamble responsibly)