Sports-Betting Apps Transform Clueless Spectators Into Rabid Fans. Trust Me.

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“You set aside money,” said Dr. Marc Potenza, a psychiatry professor at Yale and director of the university’s division on addictions research. “Some people, when they win that money, they put it back in.”

Dr. Potenza said research indicated that men — who have historically been more interested in strategic forms of gambling, like sports betting — were more prone to developing gambling problems, but that women who did develop them tended to progress more quickly into trouble, a dynamic called telescoping.

This moment of explosive growth for the gambling industry, with few governmental restrictions on marketing promotions, has had shades of trial and error. At industry conferences my colleagues and I attended this year, some representatives from betting companies urged regulators to trust them and offer flexibility so they could, as one Bet MGM employee focused on responsible betting put it, “learn and identify what is harming, what is not harming.”

While my patterns on the sites were intensely concentrated within a few days, sometimes stretching late into the night, they all resulted in my making money overall off the platforms. The companies served me new offers even, and especially, when I slowed my wagering or cashed out my winnings. Sometimes, those offers were effective in drawing me back in.

“You cleaned us out for $1,442,” said Chris Jones, vice president of communications for FanDuel, referring to my initial $900 bet with FanDuel, on the Orioles to beat the Red Sox. “For someone who’s not into it, you did pretty well,” he said, reminding me of the company’s tools to set limits on one’s own betting.

By the end of the four days I spent betting on that app, I had won $1,088.03.

“We want our customers to be engaged, of course,” Mr. Jones said. “But we do not want our customers to be checking their phones at all hours of the night.”

My favorite kind of bet, on which I made hundreds across platforms during the experiment, was a live wager on total runs in baseball: While a game was underway, I bet not on winners and losers but simply whether the combined score would be above or below a certain number.