Australians urged to ignore ‘alarmist reports’ of online gambling surge


Australia’s online betting trade group is urging the nation’s Chicken Littles not to read too much into “alarmist reports” of online gambling spending spiking during the COVID-19 lockdown.

On Tuesday, the Responsible Wagering Australia (RWA) trade body issued a statement urging “caution in interpreting headline figures” purporting to show a surge in overall gambling spending during the pandemic.

Weekly data published by economic analysts AlphaBeta and credit bureau Illion have shown a significant increase in online gambling spending since Australia went under lockdown but similar patterns have also been seen in other economic categories for which retail options are no longer available.

RWA CEO Brent Jackson noted that with land-based gambling options closed during the lockdown, “people have migrated to online platforms, as with nearly every retail business in the country.” This is “a normal market response to a changing retail environment” and thus an online spending rise doesn’t necessarily equate to an increase in overall gambling spending.

The most recent AlphaBeta/Illion stats for the week ending July 12 show online gambling spending 51% higher than a ‘normal’ week, a significant reduction from the week ending June 1, likely reflecting (a) the reopening of many local land-based gambling options in the intervening period and (b) many online bettors simply getting bored with the activity.

While the numbers remain high, it’s possible that some gamblers may have discovered during their lockdown that they prefer betting online to schlepping down to the local bookmaker, and thus the online spending figure could remain higher than ‘normal’ going forward.

That said, the RWA represents Australian-licensed online wagering operators, the only type of digital betting currently permitted under local laws. So if some of the increased online spending is going to internationally licensed online casino operators, Jackson fears “a major threat to responsible gambling in Australia.”

Enter the Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA), which announced last week that it had dropped its ban-hammer on 11 more sketchy Curacao-licensed online casinos, whose domains Australian internet service providers are now being asked to block.

The offending online casino brands are: Happy Hugo, Mucho Vegas Casino, Kahuna Casino, Rich Casino, Box 24 Casino, Bondi Bet, JokaRoom, Omni Slots, Fruits 4 Real, XPokies and Slottica.

The ACMA began targeting online casinos last November and the total number of targeted domains has risen to 66, while another 100-odd unauthorized operators have withdrawn services from the Aussie market since the ACMA began enforcing its edicts three years ago.