Australia’s gamblers went a little stir-crazy during their pandemic lockdown, if the results from a new survey are to be believed.
A survey released Monday by the Australian Gambling Research Center (AGRC) attempts to quantify the behavior of Aussie gamblers during the COVID-19 pandemic, a period that saw the closure of nearly all land-based gambling operations and the temporary halt to major league sports play.
Gambling In Australia During COVID-19 surveyed 2,019 gamblers during June-July 2020, drawing respondents via social media ads, ‘e-news alerts’ and word of mouth. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents were male, with an average age of 38 years.
Horseracing was the most popular form of gambling prior to and during COVID-19 restrictions, enjoyed by 57% of respondents in both periods. Sports betting ranked second with 46% participation prior to and 45% during COVID-19. Lotteries were third with 41% prior, 38% during.
It’s worth noting that previous AGRC surveys of Australia’s broader population found that the most popular form of gambling was lotteries at 76.2% participation, while race betting scored just 14.3% and sports betting just 8.4%. So this pandemic survey reflects a very different type of gambling consumer, which may explain a lot of what follows.
Gambling frequency showed modest declines between the pre-COVID and during-COVID periods in every single category except one: those who reported gambling 4+ times per week rose from 23% to 32%. This significant rise skewed the overall numbers into growth mode, but it has to be noted that these outliers definitely put their thumbs on the scale.
It’s also worth noting that the ‘during COVID’ period reflected the resumption of Australian rugby and football play, as well as the English Premier League, with more tightly packed schedules to make up for their downtime. As a result, bettors suddenly had more than their usual complement of wagering options on hand (not to mention government stimulus checks landing in their accounts).
In terms of gambling spending, the median figure fell from AU$500 in the 30 days prior to COVID-19 restrictions to AU$460 during the lockdown. The overall figure declined despite 18-34 males’ spending jumping from AU$687 to AU$1,075, while 18-34 female spending rose from AU$200 to AU$260. Every other category, male and female, reported reduced spending, female gamblers significantly so.
To no one’s surprise, more gambling was taking place online during the COVID-19 lockdown. Some 62% of respondents’ gambling was conducted online pre-COVID, rising to 78% during. On the flip side, playing the pokies (video poker machines) at a pub/club shrunk from 23.5% to 8.1% as the government ordered those venues to close. Similarly, casinos’ share fell from 3.8% to just 1%.
More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents had at least one online betting account at the time of the survey, with around 30% opening a new account during COVID-19. Males aged 18-34 were (surprise!) most likely to have signed up for new accounts, representing 79% of new account holders.
The AGRC has a reputation for casting the widest possible net for its problem gambling statistics, including gamblers who are ‘at risk’ of developing gambling-related problems in the problem gambling category, even if that risk is deemed to be low.
As such, one can’t help but arch one’s eyebrows at the claim in the AGRC’s latest survey that a whopping 79% of respondents are “at risk of, or already experiencing, some gambling‑related harm in the previous 12 months.” That figure rises to 84% of male respondents, rising even higher to 90% among the 18-34 demo. Basically, if you’re male, not yet 35 and you gamble, a global pandemic is apparently the least of your problems. So, uh, cheer up?