News Coronavirus Even in lockdown Australia’s gamblers found new ways to lose
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Even in lockdown Australia’s gamblers found new ways to lose

Gambling costs.
No stopping the punters: Sports betting and casinos will soon be back in full swing. Photo: Getty
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Anyone want to take odds on how Australians are trying to navigate their way through the economic downturn?

Toss a coin, but make it a double-heads, because it seems many of us are on the punt – and we’ve not been fussy about what we bet on.

The National Australia Bank’s economic data insights into consumption and spending, which were released on Thursday, offer a stark view into industries that are suffering and those that are booming during the coronavirus lockdown.

Surprisingly one of the best-performing sectors is gambling, with money flowing to that sector up 62.7 per cent on the same time last year.

That represents millions of dollars flowing out of cash-strapped household budgets and into the coffers of mostly online – many overseas – gambling venues.

The return of live sport betting while many of us are still working from home is set to exacerbate the trend, with the lack of form lines and unusual playing conditions tipping the balance even further against punters – just ask those who backed Richmond or Collingwood in last night’s low-scoring and drawn AFL restart at the MCG.

With the NRL and AFL seasons now resuming, big bookies are looking to entice punters with one-off cash offers and bonus bets to claw back customers.

The New Daily has been told that live-sport punters have returned in large numbers over the past two weeks, but there is a long way to go to catch up the lost revenue.

It’s worth noting that money flowing back into AFL and NRL gambling is not just coming from Australia, with overseas punters desperate for live events being urged to take a chance on sports they know little about.

New York-based Action Network this week offered handy hints on AFL scoring for US punters trying their luck on Thursday night’s Richmond v Collingwood, saying: “Australian Rules Football only has two scoring increments: Six points for a goal, one point for a behind. These scores are not tied together (unlike a touchdown and extra point)”.

Damning data

The NAB’s aggregated data of money flows for the week ending June 6 shows that since the start of the year gambling activities were up 50.7 per cent, although there are some signs that interest is waning – or the losses are mounting – with a fall of four per cent in the previous week before the report was compiled.

 

Consumer spending rose in just 16 of 45 industry sub-sectors, with gambling the clear ‘winner’ ahead of internet publishers and broadcasters who were up 41.6 per cent.

Gambling researcher and senior postdoctoral fellow at Rockhampton’s  Central Queensland University Alex Russell believes the emotional and financial stress of the pandemic, along with government stimulus payments, was always likely to result in addictive behavioural problems.

“With this pandemic, there have been stimulus payments, and we often see that stimulus payments result in increased discretionary spending,” Dr Russell said.

“We see gambling figures rise during July-August in years when there are favourable tax returns.

“In Townsville in 2019, after stimulus payments to help deal with floods, we saw a rise in the pokies.

With the pokies closed during the current pandemic, though, it’s been a very interesting time to see what would happen.’’

What appears to have happened is that many ‘at-risk’ gamblers may not have stopped playing, but instead have discovered online poker machine sites and bookmakers that operate outside Australian jurisdiction.

Offshore flow

With little regulation in place to restrict the use of overseas sites, and even less chance of redress if things go wrong, one industry insider told The New Daily that the NAB money flow figures do not truely represent the challenges facing the local industry, with an increase in money flowing offshore.

Local bookies have been shored up through the pandemic by the continuation of horse and greyhound racing, with a surge of online betting on those events even as live-sport revenue collapsed.

Back on: Magpie Brodie Grundy tackles Richmond’s Sydney Stack at the MCG. Photo: AAP

Anastasia Hronis, clinical psychologist at the Australian Institute for Human Wellness, says access to new forms of gambling during the pandemic is a recipe for trouble.

“Particularly during the COVID19 pandemic, online gambling has been easily accessible 24/7,” Dr Hronis said.

“If people are out of work, or not engaged with the activities they usually would be, online gambling may be an easily accessible, convenient way to pass time and relieve distress.”

Dr Hronis says while stress from the pandemic may lead people to gambling, they should “expect to lose when gambling and … cannot win money from gambling in the long run”.

Gambling can create further issues for people, strain relationships, impact mental health and push them further into financial crises.’’

It’s advice backed up by Dr Russell, who says many people think they’ll be able to stop before they get into trouble.

“If you find you get agitated when gambling, that’s a sign that it’s not just for fun any more and you should consider stepping away before things get worse.

“But it’s also important to note here that there’s too much onus on the gambler to keep themselves safe, and that venues and operators can do more, and we can make gambling products safer.”

It’s a point that’s not lost on anti-gambling campaigners, who maintain that the pandemic has been an opportunity lost to reduce the nation’s addiction to the punt.

Gambling Helpline: 1800 858 858 or gamblinghelponline.org.au