Online Gambling Increased Six-Fold During COVID-19 Lockdown

The researchers found a clear link between binge drinking and regular gambling.
Derya Ozdemir

The COVID-19 pandemic throwing our lives' balance off has taken its toll on our mental health and bodies, not only by prompting new patterns of substance abuse and compulsive habits but also by exacerbating existing ones.

Alcohol purchases have increased by more than 60 percent and statistics show opioid overdoses have gone up dramatically, and it turns out that online gambling services, which can transform from a fun activity to a disorder easily, have also grown in popularity, according to a press release.

A new research, led by the University of Bristol and published in the Journal of Gambling Studies, has found that regular male gamblers were more likely to gamble more often during the UK lockdowns than they had previously reported.

"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. 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," said lead author Professor Alan Emond of the University of Bristol's Medical School.

Heavy drinking and gambling

While it should be noted that men and women gambled less often during the lockdown in general due to betting shops being closed, regular gamblers' use of online gambling, including poker, bingo, and casino games, increased six-fold.

During the first lockdown in 2020, the researchers used two online questionnaires to interview the same group of people, on average 28 years old, who had answered related questions about gambling before the pandemic, as part of the Children of the 90s report, which is a cohort study of children born between 1991 and 1992 in the former county of Avon, England.

More than 2,600 adults, 70 percent of whom were women, participated in the study. There was a clear link between binge drinking and regular gambling, the results revealing that men were three times more likely than women to gamble on a daily basis, described as more than once a week, during the lockdown. For both men and women, heavy drinking (more than 6 units, more than 3 pints of beer, per session) at least once a week, was strongly linked to regular gambling.

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"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," said author Agnes Nairn, Professor of Marketing at the University of Bristol's School of Management, who is also an online advertising expert.

The advertisements, which have grown dramatically over the years and are well-funded, play a significant role in the popularization of gambling, attracting people through the use of celebrities such as sports personalities and reality TV stars.

"The increased prevalence of home working is also an important consideration for future policy making, as the temptation to gamble online, amplified by clever advertising, is always there. 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."

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