Aussies love to gamble; that’s just an accomplished fact. The average household wagers more money annually than anywhere else on the planet. Unfortunately, this potentially unhealthy hobby has exploded over the last month, all thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Between the bushfires that ravaged the nation and COVID-19, Aussies are on edge and looking for a way to relax. Since local pubs and casinos are closed, this has resulted in a major increase of online gambling. In fact, it’s estimated that as much as $15 billion may migrate to Internet sites, many of which are unregulated (or prohibited) by the government.

Massive Explosion in Gambling Expenditures

The following data was published by the Sydney Morning Herald, showing a breakdown of which sectors have prospered or suffered during COVID-19. The results were based on transactions from about 250,000 Australians during a period ranging from March 30th to April 5th.

  • Gyms and Fitness Industry -95%
  • Travel -78%
  • Education -43%
  • Cafes -42%
  • Restaurants -13%
  • Retail & Fashion -6%
  • Groceries +15%
  • Tobacco & Alcohol +33%
  • Online Subscriptions & Retail +61%
  • Food Delivery +63%
  • Home Improvements +64%
  • Online Gambling +67%

Compared to the same week in previous years, overall spending was down about 5%. However, this marks an improvement over the previous week, when spending was 13% below average. In the next section, we’ll look at the most likely reason for the increase.

Government Payments

Last week, the Australian government gave social security recipients and pensioners a one-time payment worth A$750. This was meant to increase consumer spending, and the strategy appears to have worked. Of course, as the above data suggests, much of the money may have went to online pokies instead of groceries.

A Troubling Survey

Recently, 1,000 Aussie gamblers were asked to take part in a survey conducted by Survation. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s a polling and market research firm founded in 2010 and based in London.

Here’s what the survey found:

  • Of those who usually wager once a week, 25% said they were still doing so.
  • Of this same group, 28% admitted to increasing their activity.
  • Another 11% said their level of activity had increased significantly.
  • 41% of gamblers responded that they had opened a new online account since the start of the pandemic.
  • The most troubling response came from regular punters. More than a third of those polled expressed concern that they were spending too much and developing an addiction.

Australians wear masks to protect against COVID-19 infection

Actions by Other Nations

To combat the possibility of increased gambling addiction, a number of countries have taken decisive action. Spain is keeping gambling ads off television during prime viewing hours, and Latvia has suspended all forms of gambling through April 14th.

Meanwhile, all members of the UK Betting and Gaming Council have agreed to voluntarily remove gambling ads for at least the next six weeks. This is a significant move, as it removes half (yes, you read that right) of all advertising on radio and television throughout the United Kingdom.

A Silver Lining

Despite the above information, it’s not all bad news. According to the Alliance for Gambling Reform, the closure of pubs and clubs has resulted in a savings of $1 billion in under a month. If you factor in losses at casinos, that number rises to around $1.5 billion.

According to AGR spokesperson Tim Costello, “That’s more than $1 billion that can instead be spent putting food on tables, paying for medical bills and utilities, rent and mortgages.”

Gambling reform advocate Anna Bardsley also shared a personal story about the benefits of the casino/pub shutdown. “’I was speaking to one woman the other day who used poker machines a lot before they closed. She said for the first time in many years she actually was able to buy Easter eggs for her children, as that money hadn’t been fed into a poker machine. I almost cried when I heard that. That’s how addictive poker machines can be; so addictive that a loving mother would effectively gamble away her children’s Easter eggs.”

Additional Reading

For more news from the world of gambling, please see the following: