Online gambling surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, study finds

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A lot of time at home led many regular gamblers to pick up the habit even more frequently

COVID-19 lockdowns over the last year have significantly impacted consumers’ behavior. Recent studies have found that more time at home during the pandemic has led to both positive and negative outcomes; some consumers have experienced personal growth during this time, while others have relied heavily on alcohol.

Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Bristol found another way that consumers passed time during lockdown orders: online gambling. According to their findings, regular gamblers were much more likely to participate in online gambling while at home over the last year when compared to before the pandemic. 

“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,” said researcher Alan Emond. “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.” 

Analyzing pandemic gambling trends

The researchers first analyzed responses from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which started before the pandemic, and had participants answer questions about their gambling habits and other lifestyle behaviors. Based on those responses, the researchers conducted two more surveys about gambling during the pandemic, which included data on more than 2,600 adults. 

Overall, the trend was clear: participants were gambling more during the pandemic than before it. While in-person betting decreased, online betting on games like bingo or poker surged during lockdown orders. Those who were regular gamblers prior to the pandemic were more than six times as likely to increase their betting during the pandemic. 

The researchers learned that men were more likely than women to gamble, and many engaged in some form of online betting at least once per week. Financial troubles made participants more likely to engage in online gambling during lockdown orders. 

It’s also important to note that as gambling increased, alcohol consumption also increased. Heavy drinking at least once a week was linked with an increase in online gambling among all of the study participants. The researchers worry about the impact that both gambling and alcohol can have on consumers’ physical and mental well-being, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The strong link between binge drinking and regular gambling is of particular concern, as they are both addictive behaviors, which can have serious health and social consequences,” Emond said. “With the wider availability of gambling through different online channels, vulnerable groups could get caught in a destructive cycle. A public health approach is needed to minimize gambling harms.” 

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