Australian punters doubled down during the pandemic, as online gambling replaces the pokies

Online gambling companies have gotten lucky during the pandemic, as Australians try to double up. (Jan-Philipp Burmann, City-Press GmbH via Getty Images)
  • Australian gambling has increased sharply since COVID-19, with young men almost doubling the amount they punt every month.
  • New government data shows one-third of gamblers are now indulging at least four times a week.
  • A surge in online gaming is one factor as the pandemic shuts or restricts the number of patrons allowed in venues.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

COVID-19 may have blown up poker machines but Australians have overcompensated as they find other means to scratch the itch.

A growing number of adults are punting through the pandemic, with around one in three gamblers indulging four times a week, according to new research published by the federal government on Tuesday.

The survey of more than 2,000 gamblers found that while lockdowns limited how people could go about it, many continually found new ways. As one 46-year-old observed, “a gambler like me will always adjust.”

“Can’t go to [casino] to play poker, then just find an illegal site to play online. Can’t bet on the sports I usually do, just bet on other sports that are still on,” he said.

An 18-year-old recounted how boredom drove he and his friends to “put stupid bets on horses [or] dogs [or] overseas sport with little to no knowledge of [it] just to get a thrill out of it.”

It’s a common theme. A 25-year-old said the sport drought drove him to bet on the weather and e-sports.

“[I] then looked at myself and said what the hell am I doing?”

Some have done so with their superannuation, using the government’s early withdrawal scheme to fritter away thousands of dollars, while some banks are preventing gamblers from using credit cards.

In a sign of the times, some online creators are even building large audiences streaming themselves playing casino games like slots, blackjack and roulette.

Online gambling platforms are making a fortune, particularly from young men

Those experiences are representative of their demographic. While those aged 35 years and over have actually cut back on the amount they bet, young men are more than making up for them.

Since the pandemic began, the amount they bet each month has jumped from $687 to $1075. Their female peers meanwhile are putting down just $260. Troublingly, one-third of the cohort are classified as problem gamblers.

The surge in their spending has undoubtedly helped line the pockets of online bookmakers.

Sportsbet and Ladbrokes both saw their half-year profits surge by more than 40%. The former pocketed almost $200 million in profit and even tried to open up odds on the ASX 200.

“You spend less at the pub betting because you can see and feel the cash and are more reluctant to bet it. Over your phone you can’t see the money and it’s way too easy to get carried away and continue betting when you should stop,” a 28-year-old man said.

“It is far too accessible, and easy to open a new account. I did it this week and it took literally 45 seconds to create and deposit,” another said.

‘I have managed to get some sanity and order in my life’

Of course, there are exceptions. Some punters said that lockdown had helped serve as a circuit breaker, and helping them regain some control.

One Victorian said after gambling facilities in pubs and clubs closed, she’d never seen more money in her savings account.

“Since TABs have been closed during COVID-19 my gambling has stopped and I have managed to get some sanity and order in my life,” one 25-year-old man said.

These examples would appear to be in the minority. The majority of gamblers surveyed reported their mental health had only worsened during the pandemic.

Many gamblers themselves said more should be done to help curb problem gambling and cut down on related triggers to reduce harm.

“[Advertising is] everywhere. From TV ads to billboards, to social media ads. It’s bigger than the [sports] game and you can’t avoid it. It’s too much,” a 23-year-old male said.

“Reduce access to gambling, particularly electronic gambling machines [and] pokies. Reduce machine numbers and betting limits to prevent harm. Rip down ‘VIP room’ signage, including flashing signs on exteriors of clubs and hotels,” another said.

“The bottom line is that gambling in Australia is a public health issue. It needs to be treated as such,” a third said.

Without action, Australia’s gambling problem is only going to grow, they wager.