Gambling is a very popular pastime in Australia with the average household wagering more money annually than anywhere else in the world. The Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated this trend, with online gambling revenue skyrocketing in the last month.
Fresh from the trauma of wildfires that recently swept the country, the pandemic has put even more pressure on the collective Australian psyche and many are looking for an escape. With access to local pubs and casinos cut off by the national lockdown, online gambling’s popularity has exploded with a projected $15 billion expected to migrate to internet sites, a significant percentage of which are unregulated or even prohibited by the government.
Gambling expenditure through the roof
The Sydney Morning Herald published the following data, which shows a breakdown of which sectors have shown growth and which have faltered during COVID-19. The data was sourced from transactions from about 250,000 Australians for the period ranging from March 30th to April 5th.
- Gyms and Fitness Industry -95%
- Travel -78%
- Education -43%
- Cafes -42%
- Restaurants -13%
- Retail & Fashion -6%
- Groceries +15%
- Tobacco & Alcohol +33%
- Online Subscriptions & Retail +61%
- Food Delivery +63%
- Home Improvements +64%
- Online Gambling +67%
Overall spending is down approximately 5% from the same period in previous years, but this is a marked improvement from the previous week where spending was down 13% from the average. The reason for this improvement likely originates from a helping hand from the government.
The Australian government recently dished out a one-time A$750 payment to social security recipients and pensioners, a move designed to boost consumer spending. The approach was a success in some respects, but a large percentage of the money has gone towards pokies as opposed to essentials.
1,000 real money Aussie gamblers were recently put through a questionnaire process by Survation, a London-based polling and market research firm, and the results of this survey contain some troubling revelations.
The survey resulted in the following findings:
- 25% of those who regularly wager once a week were still doing so.
- 28% of this same group, admitted to increasing their activity.
- A further 11% confessed to a significant increase in their online gambling activity.
- 41% of gamblers said that they had opened a new online account since the beginning of the pandemic.
- Over a third of polled regular punters revealed that they felt they were spending too much and developing an addiction.
International crisis response
In response to the looming specter of increased gambling addiction, several countries have implemented various measures. Spain has restricted gambling ads during prime-time TV hours and Latvia has temporarily suspended all forms of gambling.
The full membership of the UK Betting and Gaming Council has agreed to the removal of gambling ads for at least six weeks. This move will effectively half of all advertising on radio and television in the United Kingdom.
The bright side
Some positives have emerged in recent weeks. The Alliance for Gambling Reform revealed that the closure of pubs and clubs has brought about a collective savings of $1 billion in less than a month. If you include casino losses, that figure rises to about $1.5 billion.
AGR spokesperson Tim Costello said, “That’s more than $1 billion that can instead be spent putting food on tables, paying for medical bills and utilities, rent and mortgages.”
Gambling reform advocate Anna Bardsley had an anecdote to share about the upside of the closure of casinos and pubs. “’ I was speaking to one woman the other day who used poker machines a lot before they closed. She said for the first time in many years she actually was able to buy Easter eggs for her children, as that money hadn’t been fed into a poker machine. I almost cried when I heard that. That’s how addictive poker machines can be; so addictive that a loving mother would effectively gamble away her children’s Easter eggs.”