Poker machine generic.
Poker machine generic.

How pandemic is changing future of gambling habits

All bets were off for numerous industries throughout the pandemic and a team which includes Bundaberg researchers is investigating just how hard gambling has been hit.

Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at CQUniversity Dr Alex Russell said the focus of their project "changed overnight" when gambling did.

As pokies went offline and the majority of sporting competitions were cancelled, horse racing was one sport which managed to stay on the track.

Dr Russell said one of the challenges for a lot of people was that for some people gambling was a way cope.

While not everyone uses gambling as a coping mechanism, for some people it's a way to "zone out", particularly with pokies.

"Most of the online forms that are available in Australia are things like sports betting and race betting and it's hard to have a zone out gambling session with those things; because you've got to think about what am I going to bet on, you've got to wait a while until you find out who won …," he said.

Which is part of the reason why Australia doesn't have online pokies.

Dr Russell said online pokies exist overseas and one of the concerns they discussed at the start of the shut down was Australians going to offshore sites to get their pokies hit.

He said despite expecting to see more gambling online amid the impact of coronavirus and the availability of stimulus packages, there weren't as many ways for one to gamble.

"We did see a bit of a spike in terms of online gambling, it went up about 30 per cent or 60 per cent depending on the figures you go off," Dr Russell said.

"Certainly online gambling went up, but not as much as you'd expect."

He said it wasn't as though everyone moved to online from land-based venues, rather a lot of people "took a break".

But since venues reopened, Dr Russell has heard of "queues out the door" as social distancing rules are implemented.

"In terms of what it means for gambling going forward, it's going to be different for online verses venues, but one thing we know for sure is that venues are going to try to get people through the doors and on to the pokies, because they're worth a tonne of money," he said.

"If the pokies aren't bringing money in then a lot of venues will close down so they'll push for it in all the ways that they possibly can."

Dr Russell said researchers also noted people were just staying home, not necessarily because of fear from the virus, but because they've become comfortable within their own four walls and are working from home.

"Going to a venue to do these sorts of things is not something that is going to be as popular for a while," he said.

"It may come back, but whether it comes back to the levels that it was I'm not sure."

"If there's more interest in online gambling and revenue from pokies drops a lot - that's also revenue for the government that's got to be replaced somehow too," Dr Russell said.

"So there may be more of an appetite to push those things, and the concern around in-play-betting is that it's really fast paced and can lead to that disassociation zoning out that we're worried about with pokies."

Dr Russell said people playing pokies in a venue are often cut off if they become agitated and start hitting machines, but there were concerns for someone betting in their own home on something fast paced.

For Dr Russell another concern with online gambling was the use of credit cards and the associated intricacies.

"It's not actually a transaction, you don't get 55 days interest-free or anything they treat it as a cash advance," he said.

"So you get higher interest straight away, you get no interest-free days and you also get cash advance fees on top of that as well.

"So people who are going online for the first time are finding this out the hard way and getting hit with these fees that they weren't expecting."

Looking to the future, he said an interesting focus was the impact cutting back gambling habits or being forced to go cold turkey had on individuals.

Dr Russell said one of his fellow researchers has been focusing on gambling harm and one of the key aspects of gambling harm is that it takes time to develop and to go away.

Whether it be financial or relationship concerns, just because you stopped playing the pokies doesn't mean they will automatically fix themselves.




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