A study by the University of Sydney has found that during the first COVID-19 shutdown in Australia, a majority of people reduced the number of times they gambled but most planned to return to previous gambling habits after the shutdown.
“These initial results were a surprise as other studies have shown increases in gambling,” said study lead Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury.
The online survey by the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic and Technology Addiction Team in the Brain and Mind Centre was conducted in May; further research will be conducted in August and November 2020 to examine the ongoing impacts of gambling venues reopening across Australia. The findings are in line with new figures from the NSW Government showing a spike in pokie profits in June, compared to the previous year, after the first wave of lockdowns.
Sally 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,” said Gainsbury, from the School of Psychology in the Faculty of Science.
“The lockdown appears to have mostly 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.”
- Almost 75 percent of respondents gambled less frequently.
- Median monthly gambling expenditure more than halved.
- Among those experiencing gambling problems, 60 percent decreased how frequently they were gambling, although 25 percent increased their gambling expenditure.
About the survey
The online research surveyed 764 Australian adults (85 percent male, aged 18-82 years) who had gambled in the past 12 months.
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 in gambling spend seen in those aged 18 to 29 years. In general, the median reported monthly gambling spend of survey participants decreased from $450 pre-shutdown to $200.
Several participants reported feeling anxious about gambling venues reopening. One said: “My fear is that I will return to gambling at the same rate as before the shutdown – thus wasting the opportunity of the forced hiatus to reign in my poker machine habit.”
Another said: “Been wonderful to get clean air away from pokies… working with my counsellor in readiness for when they reopen. I’m desperate not to return.”
Gainsbury concludes: “Careful thought should be paid to the lessons of the lockdown in terms of understanding the impact of gambling availability and the likelihood of people searching for alternate activities in the face of restrictions.”
GGB has conducted a podcast with Gainsbury that gets into more details about the study, how it was conducted, and what the University of Sydney has planned for more research on this topic in the future. The podcast will be published in the next week.