Real-time data published by credit bureau illion and analytics firm AlphaBeta has revealed consumer spending on gambling in Australia has increased by a factor of 2.84, or almost 300%, during the COVID-19 lockdowns currently gripping the country’s two most populous states, NSW and Victoria.
According to a consumer spend tracker put together by the two companies, the average weekly spend on gambling by Australians of legal age has increased from a base index of 100 per week pre-COVID to 384.40 for the week ended 19 September 2021.
That makes gambling spend almost 100 points higher per week than at its peak during lockdowns last year, having reached 298.30 in November 2020.
The tracker does not break gambling down into online versus land-based, nor does it separate different types of online gambling, however illion CEO Simon Bligh confirmed in comments to The Sydney Morning Herald that online gambling was the main reason for the increase given the closure of pubs, clubs, casinos and most other forms of entertainment in NSW and Victoria since June.
“There really isn’t anywhere else to blow your cash in Sydney and Melbourne if you want a quick entertainment hit,” Bligh said.
Andrew Charlton, Managing Director of AlphaBeta parent company Accenture, added, “It appears many people have been introduced to online gambling during lockdowns. They’ve discovered there’s a poker machine in their pocket. Combine that with the boredom of being at home and extra money – maybe from government payments or extra savings – and maybe this addictive new technology gets away from us a bit.”
Whether or not the statistics prompt Australia’s government to revisit online gaming regulation – which permits sports betting and lotteries but bans the provision of online casinos or poker to Australian residents – remains to be seen.
If the rationale for licensing and regulating bricks and mortar gambling and online sports betting and lotteries is to minimize harm from such activities compared to sending them underground through a regime of prohibition, the question needs to be asked about why the same logic doesn’t apply to online casinos and poker? The question is particularly pertinent given the current bans appears to be having limited real-world impact.
As reported by IAG in April 2020, a similar study conducted by illion and AlphaBeta shortly after Australia’s first COVID-19 lockdown was implemented found online gambling had increased 67% in the space of a single week.