A joint study by Australian credit bureau illion and analytics firm AlphaBeta has revealed a 67% increase in online gambling in the past week alone following the recent shutdown of all non-essential services due to COVID-19.
The figures, based on a sample of transactions of 250,000 Australian consumers, show the online gambling industry as one of the biggest winners of the shutdown, alongside services such as food delivery, up 63%, and online retail and subscription services, up 61%.
It does not, however, break down the rise in online gambling by type, nor does it outline whether the data refers only to legal gambling activities. Sports betting and wagering is permitted in Australia but online casino gaming and poker are among the activities strictly prohibited under the Interactive Gambling Act.
With the forced closure of clubs and casinos experts are concerned about the potential for problem gamblers to shift online, without some of the safeguards that exist while using poker machines at the club or casino.
Monash University associate professor Charles Livingstone told SBS News that for those who did make the switch online, the risks were potentially even higher.
“There is a difficulty for some people who are going to be tempted to shift their gambling expenditure online and for these people there could be quite serious consequences,” he said.
“There are no real limits to online gambling, and you can use credit cards to top up online gambling accounts, which you can’t use in pubs or clubs.”
According to data collected by analytics consultancy AlphaBeta and credit firm Illion, and first reported in the Nine papers, online gambling has seen a rapid growth.
There has been a 67 percent increase during the first week of clubs and casinos being closed due to the coronavirus lockdown alone.
Professor Livingstone said the government needed to step up and regulate the online betting space, banning credit card usage and placing bet limits and daily loss maximums for online betting sites.
While horse racing is still running globally, major sporting codes such as the AFL and NRL have shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Online bookies have had to turn to more novel markets to try and encourage people to bet.
Professor Samantha Thomas, a gambling expert from Deakin University, said that these novel markets involving obscure sports and reality TV betting were also risky.
“They are offering newer and quite strange markets for people to gamble on. So they may include Russian table tennis or Nicaraguan soccer,” she told SBS News.
And politics is not immune.
One online betting company in Australia is allowing punters to bet on what colour tie Prime Minister Scott Morrison will wear to his next press conference (the odds-on favourite is blue).
While a US betting site is taking bets on how many times US President Donald Trump will use his favourite words or phrases in his daily press conference.
But Professor Thomas said that these novelty markets still presented a risky proposition for problem gamblers.
She said gambling research shows that people are more likely to lose more money in times of great emotional or financial stress, such as the situation many Australians find themselves in now.
“We have a community that is potentially now under a lot of stress, we have them isolated at home, potentially bored and some of those people will be accessing lump sums of money.
“All of those things contribute to the risk of problem gambling,” she said.
He added that without stricter regulation of the online betting market, some people may end up in more harm than may otherwise have been the case.