Surging post-lockdown retail revenues and vulnerable pandemic gamblers demand close attention, according to three international researchers.
Early investigations in the UK and Sweden appear to indicate that although levels of gambling have not increased dramatically during lockdown, the people who gambled more were those most at risk.
The individual work of a group of academics, still in its early stages, lends support to temporary restrictions introduced by both the UK Gambling Commission and Swedish governments.
Speaking on a panel hosted by TRG, UK-based Steve Sharman of King’s College London and Lund University’s Anders Hakansson previewed separate research projects that warned those identified as the most at risk before the pandemic had increased their gambling while confined at home.
“If you already have that relationship with gambling then you are at greater risk during lockdown,” said Sharman.
Additionally, those people who say they feel they have been economically damaged by the pandemic were also among those most likely to have started gambling more since lockdown began, Sharman noted.
Sally Gainsbury from the University of Sydney said that her early research, conducted via social media, suggested that even those people who felt they had a gambling problem were generally gambling less during lockdown, especially if they were typically land-based gamblers.
However, around 18 percent of people said they had increased their gambling while confirmed to their homes and that group were more likely to be suffering from pre-existing gambling harms.
Gainsbury said that in an Australian market still dominated by play on video gambling machines, known as pokies, there was also fear of a damaging bounceback.
In regions of the country where local lockdowns have been lifted, losses have climbed as high as 30 percent year-on-year, she said.
Worse still, the highest losses are centred around areas of lower economic prosperity, mostly towards the centre of the country, said Gainsbury.
The pokie surge comes despite many venues being forced to shut off half of their machines to comply with social distancing regulations.
Academics also expressed concern about the long-term effects of the pandemic and appealed for funds to continue their research over the coming months.
Sharman pointed to the Virtual Grand National as an example of a flashpoint with potentially long-lasting ramifications.
The computer-generated race, broadcast in the UK on ITV, replaced the country’s most popular racing event and will have seen many infrequent gamblers place their only bets of the year.
Limited to online-only options on the virtual edition, many punters who would usually visit a bookmaker to lay their bets will now have signed up for online accounts, opening them up to reams of marketing in the future.
Gainsbury also raised concerns about what a rapid growth in online accounts would mean for growth in gambling harm in Australia.
The ability for gambling firms to market to non-customers is strictly limited in the country, she said, but the rules are much more relaxed for account-holders.
That means both frequent gamblers who have ventured to new online casinos and those recreational players who may have started a regular online poker game during lockdown would now expect to receive large amounts of new gambling marketing, said Gainsbury.
Citing a wishlist of changes to UK gambling legislation, as the country approaches an expected review of the Gambling Act, Sharman said he backed many of the recommendations in the recent Lords report.
However, he added his desire to see gambling research unshackled from industry funding.
His call came days before it was announced on Friday that Marc Etches would be leaving his post as long-time CEO of industry-funded charity and major research commissioning group GambleAware.