The COVID-19 pandemic has seen access to gambling reduce across the state as venues close and sporting codes are suspended in alignment with government restrictions.
The Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRS) surveyed over 2000 people who gamble across Australia during June-July of 2020 to understand how people have adjusted to the availability of gambling. The AGRS published their findings this month warning that young men between the ages of 18-34 are at most risk.
It was revealed that the majority of participants gambled with real money when they were around 18 years of age, and one in five claimed that they had first gambled while underage. The median years spent gambling found from the 2,019 participants included was 11 years.
The survey found that almost one in three people participants signed up for a new online betting account during COVID-19. Young men were most likely to sign up for new online accounts as well as increase their frequency and monthly spending on gambling.
The proportion of people who gamble more than four times a week increased from 23 percent pre COVID-19, to 32 percent during COVID-19. The survey found that the closure of land-based gambling venues increased online activity.
The racing industry which is responsible for close to 75 percent of the local betting market has continued to operate during the pandemic while other sporting industries were forced to close. The study found that the frequency of participation in horse racing gambling remained at 57 percent both before and after COVID-19.
Researcher Rebecca Jenkinson told the ABC that isolation, boredom and betting promotions were among the key reasons young men gave when explaining their increased gambling spend.
“They reported being heavily exposed to ads and promotions, and that was often a motivation for them to gamble,” she said.
Young men were identified as the most at risk for gambling related harm and had the largest increase in expenditure during COVID-19. Men aged 18-34 increased their gambling related spending habits while the older age groups (35-55+) reduced their spending habits. Young men’s monthly spend went from an average of $687 per month to $1,075 per month.
Participants revealed their online gambling habits to the AGRS and these were their comments:
“It is far too accessible, and easy to open a new account. I did it this week and it took literally 45 seconds to
create and deposit.” (Consumer, Male, 28)
I played online pokies for the first time as I wasn’t able to in person. I never knew how accessible it was,
and I was hooked for a few days spending more than I typically do. In person it’s easy to walk away from
and perhaps grab another drink and enjoy the venue. During COVID, I found myself gambling during work
hours and whilst working.” (Consumer, Male, 22)
“Downloaded an account due to boredom and no accessibility to TAB machines. Now have more random
bets than I would without an account.” (Consumer, Male, 22)
“I had never gambled online previous to COVID‑19, I had problems with gambling coming into this
pandemic and before I knew it I had justified to myself to gamble at home online.” (Consumer, Male, 30)
“Definitely have put more into racing on mobile tab since COVID has shut down bingos and pokies.”
(Consumer, Female, 59)
More than half of the gamblers surveyed reported deterioration in both their physical and mental health during COVID-19 making them more vulnerable to the addictive nature of online gambling. Assessment of gambling-related problems among participants using the Problem Gambling Severity Index suggested that four in five participants would be classified as being at risk of, or already experiencing, some gambling‑related harm in the previous 12 months.
A key expert involved in the study commented on how participants have been affected by the availability of gambling and noted that the outcomes and impacts of gambling during COVID-19 would not be revealed for some time.
“Gambling harms take time to develop, so we may not see the real impacts for a while,” they said.
If you or anyone you know needs help, please contact the following services:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Headspace: 1800 650 890
Gambling Helpline: 1800 858 858
Photo: Man riding horse by Midia available HERE and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has been modified.