A new study conducted in the UK, suggests that regular gamblers were over six times more likely to gamble online during the Covid pandemic. The research, undertaken by the University of Bristol found that frequent male gamblers were particularly inclined to have increased their betting throughout lockdown.
Overall, gambling activity fell during the coronavirus outbreak, largely due to the closure of betting shops—but certain groups showed significant increases.
People who were struggling financially, reported that they had gambled more frequently and even occasional gamblers were more than twice as likely to do so during the health crisis.
Professor Alan Emond—the lead author of the study said: “This study provides unique real time insights into how people’s attitudes and gambling behavior changed during lockdown, when everyone was stuck inside and unable to participate in most social activities.”
He emphasized how high-risk groups were more likely to have been affected: “The findings reveal that although many forms of gambling were restricted, a minority of regular gamblers significantly increased their gambling and betting online. As with so many repercussions of the pandemic, inequalities have been exacerbated and particularly vulnerable groups were worse affected.”
The report—published in the Journal of Gambling Studies—surveyed more than 2600 adults and found a threefold increase in online poker casino games, and bingo. The research compared questionnaires taken during lockdown with a survey of the same group taken before the pandemic.
Men were found to be three times more likely to gamble regularly than women, and heavy drinking had a significant correlation with regular gambling among both men and women.
Professor Emond stated that, “The strong link between binge drinking and regular gambling is of particular concern, as they are both addictive behaviors which can have serious health and social consequences.
The research backs up other data, such as the YouGov Covid-19 tracker study, that also found regular gamblers to have stepped up their online gambling in the course of the pandemic.
The Gambling Commission has also reported increased revenue for the major online betting companies during that time. Esports proved an especially popular outlet for gamblers as many live sporting events were cancelled.
This is of particular concern as previous research from the University of Bristol showed children are disproportionately influenced by social media advertising about gambling on esports.
Agnes Nairn, an online advertising expert and co-author of the study had this to say: “The results of this study and trends being reported more widely are quite alarming. As gambling habits shift online, vulnerable groups including children and adults who drink heavily may be more easily sucked into these channels.”
Nairn also commented on the increase in esports gambling, and its potential effect on minors: “Children are also falling prey to this advertising, especially for esports, on social media and could get locked into addictive habits from an early age. Stricter regulation is needed in this growing field to protect unwitting consumers.”
Professor Edmond agreed. “With the wider availability of gambling through different online channels, vulnerable groups could get caught in a destructive cycle” he said, adding: “A public health approach is needed to minimize gambling harms.”