A study of Australian gambling behavior during the recent COVID-19 lockdown has found that around 75% of respondents gambled less frequently due to fewer gambling options, but that most planned to resume their normal gambling habits as lockdown was lifted.
The study, conducted in May by the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic and Technology Addiction Team in the Brain and Mind Centre, surveyed 764 Australian adults between the ages of 18 and 82 – of which 85% were male – with further research to follow in August and November 2020.
However, unlike other studies which have shown an increase in gambling behaviour during the period – including one that highlighted a 67% increase in online gambling in the space of one week during lockdown – this one showed the opposite.
“These initial results were a surprise as other studies have shown increases in gambling,” said study lead Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury.
Australia’s land-based gaming venues, including pubs, clubs and casinos, were closed from 26 March 2020 although the majority of those outside the state of Victoria – which is currently experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 – have since reopened.
Gainsbury, who is co-director of the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic, said the preliminary results indicated that the closure of gambling venues and cancellation of sporting events resulted in a decrease in gambling frequency overall, including for online gambling. However, online gambling was less impacted and people who increased their online gambling were more likely to report experiencing gambling problems, psychological distress and COVID-related financial difficulties.
“There are major policy implications in the immediate and longer term, particularly given the benefits some people experienced from the reduced availability of gambling,” she said.
“The lockdown appears to have mostly [had] a positive impact, however those who increased their gambling are arguably at the greatest risk of experiencing significant harms – we need to focus on the ongoing impacts, both in the general population and among vulnerable groups.”
The finding showed that 75% of respondents gambled less frequently and that median monthly gambling expenditure more than halved. Among those experiencing gambling problems, 60% decreased how frequently they were gambling, although 25% increased their gambling expenditure.
The preliminary results show most participants reporting past-year gambling problems indicated their gambling frequency had decreased during the shutdown. Higher psychological distress and COVID-related financial difficulties appear to be linked to increases in gambling expenditure but not increased gambling frequency.
Younger people, who are also more prone to psychological issues from the pandemic according to previous research, were also more likely to report increasing their gambling spend, with greatest increases seen in those aged 18 to 29 years. In general, the median reported monthly gambling spend of survey participants decreased from AU$450 pre-shutdown to AU$200.