Australians love to gamble. They have the highest gambling participation rates worldwide with 80% of the adult population taking part in some form of gambling activities. In the financial year 2017-2018, the total gambling expenditure of Australia amounted to $24.887 billion, a 0.5% increase from the previous year.
Being the biggest gamblers globally, it is normal that the Covid-19 pandemic made a huge impact on the market in Australia. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the global pandemic on the 11th of March 2020, shortly after which, Australia closed its pubs, restaurants, and casinos on the 22nd of March.
However, at the very beginning of July, Australia started re-opening its land-based casinos. The Star Entertainment Group announced they would be opening their doors on the 1st of July with a restriction of 500 loyalty club members permitted by invitation only. Others followed suit shortly after, although some did not reopen until November 2020.
How Much did Aussies Gamble in Previous Years?
To be able to comprehend the extent that the Covid-19 Pandemic affected the gambling market in Australia, it is important to look at the gambling habits of Aussies in previous years. Australians spent over $24 billion on gambling in 2017-2018, which is $10.8 billion more than the expenditure on energy and household appliances.
A survey from 2018 with multiple answers possible showed that a total of 47.9% of respondents had taken part in gambling activities in the past year. The survey consisted of 14,224 Australians over the age of 18 in a face-to-face interview.
Out of the respondents, 40.1% of them had bought lottery tickets or scratch cards, 13.7% of them had played on poker machines, 9.4% of them had taken part in betting, 5.1% of them had played keno, and 2.5% had played at casino table games.
If we look at gambling spending per game type in 2016, it will show that the largest sum of gambled money goes to pokies. Over $12 billion went into gaming machines in Australia, while a further $5.2 billion were spent at land-based casinos. A further $2 billion went to TAB retail outlets and $1.9 billion to Lotto. The remaining of around $3 billion went to various lotteries, sports betting, fixed-odds games, bookmakers, keno, and other minor gambling activities.
Gambling Participation Trends prior and during Covid-19
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the availability of different gambling services changed drastically. In the first wave, many lockdown measures were taken, including the closing of land-based betting shops and casinos. So, we are going to look at how Australians gambling habits have changed due to the disruption over the course of the pandemic.
Types of gaming products Aussies gamble on
A survey was conducted in April on the change of online gambling activity in Australians during March 2020. There were a total of 1,000 respondents to the online survey of people over the age of 18.
The survey found that 26% of people found they placed bets more often on sporting events in Australia, while 33.2% said they had betted less. A further 17% said that there was no difference and the remaining 23.8% said they had not placed any bets on sports events this year.
When given the same options for betting on sports events overseas, 14.9% said they had done so more, while 32.3% said they had gambled less. A further 21.7% had said there was no change, while 31.1% had not bet at all this year.
For gambling on online card games, 18.7% of respondents had increased their betting habits, while 22.1% had gambled less on this type of online game. Around 15% said they had not changed their gambling activities in this area, while 43.8% had not taken part in this activity at all.
Regarding online slot machines, those who had increased their betting on them (19.6%) nearly broke even with those who had gambled less (21.7%). A further 16.6% had not changed their betting habits with online slot machines, while 42.1% had not done so this year.
Only 25.1% of respondents had not taken part in other forms of online gambling throughout the year, while nearly 30% had maintained the same activities. More than 19% had increased their online gambling since the pandemic and 26% had lessened their participation in other forms of online gambling.
Another survey was conducted which included over 2,000 gamblers between 18 and 84 years of age. This one was interesting because it showed the drops and increases in land-based betting also. The survey showed that 10% of respondents had gambled at brick-and-mortar casinos before the pandemic, while only 3% had after the outbreak. That is quite a drastic drop, but there have also been significant increases in online gambling since the Covid-19 pandemic.
The frequency of participation of local gamblers
The survey conducted with over 2,000 gambling respondents also assessed the gambling frequency before and during the pandemic. It confirmed what we were all presuming – gambling had indeed increased in frequency among the Australian residents.
Participants were asked how often they had placed wagers on any form of gambling. The possible answers were once a month, 2-3 times a month, once a week, 2-3 times a week, or 4+ times a week.
Gamblers that had gambled once a month before covid-19 were 9, while during were 7. Before the pandemic, 12 participants had gambled 2-3 times weekly and after 10. Twenty-two participants had selected once a week prior, while nineteen during. A much larger sum of 34 participants gambled 2-3 times a week prior, and 32 during. However, a big increase was noticed in the option of 4+ times a week with 23 before that increased to 32 during.
Another way to assess the seriousness of the situation is to look at the median past-month expenditure before and after Covid-19. The pandemic seems to have had the worst impact on younger men of the Australian population, while the women have actually seemed to have managed their gambling habits much better during the outbreak.
The pandemic hit the younger age group involved in the survey the worst. Men between ages 18 and 34 spent $687 monthly on gambling prior to the pandemic, rising to $1,075. Men between 35 and 54 actually spent less during the pandemic, reducing to $450 from $550, as did men over the age of 55. They gambled an average of $320 monthly before the outbreak, while that dropped down to $188 during.
Women aged 18-34 also increased the monthly expenditure on gambling, going from $200 to $260 during the pandemic. Age groups 35-54, however, dropped drastically from $220 to just $88. Australian ladies aged 55+ also decreased their monthly expenditure from $300 to $100 during the outbreak.
Channels of gambling participation
Now let us look at how the channels gamblers used to access gambling prior to and during the pandemic. You will note there is a high increase in online gambling and quite the decrease in land-based betting.
Prior to the pandemic, 3.8% of participants used land-based casinos as their channel for gambling, while during, only 1% did. Betting at a venue, pub, or club was the channel for 23.5% of respondents prior, but only 8.1% after the outbreak. Other venues were the option for 10.7% of participants before but went up to 12.9% during the pandemic.
The big rise can be seen in online gambling. Prior to the outbreak, 62% of participants used online gambling channels, while after, that increased to 78%. That is near ⅘ of the number of respondents.
Impact of Covid-Related Restrictions on Problem Gambling
The survey mentioned above that analyzed many aspects of gambling and the changes in gambling behavior due to the pandemic also took a look at the covid-related restrictions on problem gambling. Findings suggest that almost 4 in 5 of the participants (79%) showed symptoms of problematic gambling.
Only 10% of the age group 18-34 were considered non-problem gamblers, while 33.9% were deemed problem gamblers. The remaining 56% were considered either low-risk (20%) or moderate-risk (36%) groups.
The highest group of non-risk gamblers (37.6%) were aged 55+, while the problem gamblers of this age were only 21.6% (which is still quite a lot). The remaining 40.9% were either low-risk (18.3%) or moderate-risk (22.6%) gamblers.
While the type of survey did not allow us to assess the situation prior to and during the pandemic, it is quite blatant that there is a high percentage of problem gambling in Australia. The larger part of the high-risk group is made up of men in the age group18-34.
How Does Gambling Participation Compare to Other Harmful Activities?
We can obviously see the huge negative impact Covid-19 has made on the already problem-gambling nation. It makes you wonder whether other harmful activities have also been affected by the pandemic.
When the participants were asked about their drinking habits, 15.3% did not drink before or during the pandemic and are classified as non-drinkers. Interestingly, 4.8% of respondents drank prior to the pandemic, but not after, while 2.4% drank during, but not before Covid-19.
Participants were asked to complete the AUDIT-C “consumption” scale with scores 1-12. This asked them 3 questions – how often they drank, the quantity consumed on a typical day, and the frequency of drinking.
Both before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption was considerably higher in men compared to women, as in young people (18-34) compared to older age groups. On a whole, the overall alcohol consumption remained pretty stable during both periods. The only significant change we noted was a decrease in drinking in men and younger age groups (18-34).
Smoking prevalence also remained pretty stable with 25% of the sample reported smoking tobacco before and/or during the pandemic. Out of that number, 10% smoked less than daily and 15% smoked daily. A further 7% reported smoking e-cigarettes – 4% daily and 3% on less than a daily basis.
The Figures from Across the Pond
So, Australia’s already high-risk gambling population has not fared too greatly, having increased rates of gambling participation in many areas of the industry. The market itself, however, is doing quite well with little risk of collapsing. Let us take a look at how well it did in comparison with other well-developed gambling markets, like the UK.
The UK is also currently having a period of accelerated change in many areas of the gambling market. Cancellation of sports is having a devastating effect on areas of the industry that rely on sports as their main source of betting services. In contrast, E-Sports are enjoying a large increase in users, expecting even bigger growth in the near future. Virtual sports have never been that popular in the UK even though it has been around since 1961. Of course, a large level of mistrust is had for this type of sport. However, this option for gambling has also flourished courtesy of the lockdown.
Online casinos and online poker have also seen some interesting peaks and drops throughout the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. Online casinos, in general, did not have any abnormal spikes and actually continued steady growth. However, online poker tells a different story. Online poker rose by almost 70% in a very sharp spike and then declined quite abruptly and then assumed steady growth at still quite a high level. Online slots, online lotteries, and bingo all experienced quite large spikes in their activity during Covid-19 and then resumed its steady course of growth.
On March 20, all retail gambling venues closed, meaning that activities that generate 50% of the overall market (without lotteries) stopped. Data collected showed that overall there were fewer consumers gambling compared with the previous year and only 0.4% of people surveyed had said they had begun gambling when the pandemic started.
Gamblers in the UK are generally claiming that they are gambling either the same or less in contrast to the growing gambling participation in Australia. Although there were some shifts in the gambling activities UK players indulged in, on the grand scale of things there were no drastic increases recorded like those in Australia.