AGRC Study Says Covid Caused More Online Gambling

There seems to be a study for everything. In particular, researchers have or are in the process of studying every aspect of the coronavirus pandemic and the various ways it affected Australia. The Australian government has backed some of these studies.

The studies sometimes contradict each other, though.

For example, just a few weeks ago, the Australian Communications and Media Authority released a study showing a decrease in online gambling during the pandemic shutdowns of 2020. In contrast, though, the Australian Gambling Research Centre just released a survey that showed a dramatic number of Aussies gambling online for the first time during the same period and even more on the verge of or experiencing gambling harm.

Sometimes, these studies are flawed and message-driven.

AGRC Study Basics

The Australian Gambling Research Center’s study – “Gambling in Australia during COVID-19” – consisted of two forms of outreach. An online survey collected results from 2,019 people who were already gamblers to some extent or who joined the survey via social media advertisements or online news alerts. The subjects participated in telephone and video interviews with experts in gambling research, regulation, policy, and treatment.

Participants in the survey were at least 18 years of age, lived in Australia, and admitted to having gambled in the past 12 months. They answered questions between June 10 and July 31, 2020. Follow-up interviews with the aforementioned experts took place in July and August.

AGRC’s goal was to understand how Aussies adapted to gambling availability in 2020 amidst the lockdowns and limited land-based options. Further, researchers wanted to see changes – if any – in gambling participation, alcohol consumption, health, and overall well-being.

“Findings from the study will help to inform the development and implementation of policy and practice responses to prevent and reduce gambling-related harms in Australia.”

Major AGRC Findings

According to AGRC, the primary findings of the group’s research were summed up as:

  • 1/3 of participants signed up for a new online betting account
  • 1/20 started betting or gambling online
  • 79% classified as at risk of or experiencing gambling harm
  • 18-34-year-olds most likely to start or increase gambling and risk harm
  • Those who gambled 4 or more times per week increased from 23% to 32%
  • Nearly 50% reported negative physical or mental effects of lockdowns
  • Racing, sports and lotto were primary gambling focuses

In addition, the people surveyed and the experts recommended numerous initiatives to reduce gambling harm, including stronger consumer protection regulations and reduced levels of advertising.

Who Gambles?

The basic demographics of those surveyed for the research were distinctly young and male:

  • 73% male
  • 56% 18-34 years old (20% 35-54 years old and 24% 55 or older)
  • 89% Australian natives (3% Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander)
  • 56% in a relationship or married
  • 85% do not live alone
  • 71% live in major cities (64% in New South Wales or Victoria)
  • 32% finished college (27% still in school)
  • 69% employed

In addition, the median weekly income of participants was between $1,000 and $1,300

As for their gambling habits, the majority (79%) gambled at least once per week over the course of the past year. Fewer than 30% gambled four or more times per week in the past year. Most started real-money gambling in their late teens or early 20s, but some (20%) started before they turned 18.

What Do They Gamble On?

The study asked the participants about their habits before the Covid-19 lockdowns and after but focused on 2020 only. The vast majority didn’t change their habits much for the most popular forms of gambling, such as horse and greyhound racing, sports betting, and lotto.

Pokies machines obviously decreased significantly during the lockdowns, as most venues remained closed. Keno and instant scratchies had the same results, as did bingo, poker, and casino activities.

AGRC study

Online gambling did increase during the Covid-19-related shutdowns, primarily because most live operators were not open or severely limited.

  • Online gambling = 62% before Covid, 78% after Covid
  • Live venues = 23.5% before, 8.1% after
  • Casinos = 3.8% before, 1% after
  • Other venues (racetracks, TAB outlets, newsagents) = 10.7% before, 12.9% after

How Often and How Much?

Participants estimated their gambling frequently before and after Covid lockdowns, with the most drastic increase seen in people who already gambled a lot.

  • Once/month = 9% before Covid, 7% after Covid
  • Twice or thrice/month = 12% before, 10% after
  • Once/weekly = 22% before, 19% after
  • Twice/thrice weekly = 34% before, 32% after
  • Almost daily = 23% before, 32% after

As far as their spending, most people decreased the amount that they spent on gambling during Covid but not drastically. Younger people spent more during the lockdowns, as did all males. Young females spent slightly more. All other age groups and all women overall spent less.

What Impacts?

Researchers used the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) to assess participants and their answers regarding impacts from gambling. Using that index, they found that 79% of the participants were either at risk of or already experiencing some type of gambling harm now or within the past year.

As in most other examples, men were more likely than women to be at risk or experience gambling harm, and younger participants were also more likely.

For whatever reason, participants answered questions about their drinking and smoking habits as well. The responses pertaining to drinking alcohol indicated a higher rate among men and young people in the 18-34 age group. And rather than notable increases in drinking, many groups saw decreases.

Smoking remained the same during the pre-Covid and during-Covid periods. One-fourth of those surveyed smoked tobacco before and during, though only 15% daily and 10% less than daily – occasionally.

Suggestions for the Future

Clearly, from the writing of the findings, the AGRC put emphasis on the negative experiences of gamblers. The examples cited in the publication were nearly all negative in nature.

Overall, though, the study resulted in some general suggestions for governments and gambling regulators.

  • Reduce gambling promotions and advertising, especially in relation to sports betting ads.
  • Further restrict the availability of pokies in land-based venues.
  • Increase messaging about gambling harm prevention and self-exclusion.

The experts concluded that this would be an ideal time to review and strengthen gambling laws and regulations for online and live gambling sectors. And responsible gambling messaging should be improved and expanded.

RWA Lashes Out

Among those who immediately took issue with the study was Responsible Gambling Australia (RWA). The group released a media notice to accuse the AGRC of using a “highly biased participant sample to create a sensationalist view of gambling.”

RWA noted that any pool of participants with 80% of gamblers in the at-risk category cannot be used to present an accurate and reliable sampling of gambling behaviours.

Further, the identities of the experts used to ask questions, interview participants, and analyze the results were not revealed. “It’s deeply concerning that government-funded research draws on the opinions of ten anonymous individuals whose list of reforms literally involve ‘wishing’ for things to happen.”

RWA CEO Brent Jackson noted that policy discussions regarding gambling must be based on evidence-based research and data.


Rose Varrelli

Rose Varrelli has always been passionate about online casinos, as she’s been a player at a variety of places for years. Rose turned her personal knowledge and insight into a writing career. She aims to provide readers with the most up to date, informative news in the world of online casinos!


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