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Online gambling soared during lockdown, study finds

By Rod Minchin, PA

Regular gamblers were more than six times more likely to bet online during the pandemic compared to before the health crisis, according to new research.

The study found regular male gamblers were particularly prone to gambling more often online during lockdown in the UK, compared to their previously reported betting habits.

Although overall men and women gambled less frequently during lockdown, partly due to betting shops being closed, some forms of gambling increased.

Usage of online gambling, including poker, bingo and casino games, grew six-fold among regular gamblers.

Respondents who gambled occasionally were still found to be more than twice as likely than before to gamble online.

Those who struggled financially before the pandemic were more likely to report gambling during lockdown.

Lead author Professor Alan Emond, of the University of Bristol, said: “This study provides unique real-time insights into how people’s attitudes and gambling behaviour 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.”

The comparative research used two online questionnaires during the first lockdown in 2020, which surveyed the same group of adults, aged 28 on average, who had previously been asked similar questions about gambling before the pandemic as part of the Children of the 90s study.

More than 2,600 adults responded and results revealed that during lockdown men were three times more likely than women to gamble more than once a week.

Drinking more than three pints of beer at least once a week was strongly linked to regular gambling among men and women.

These trends are likely to be much greater in reality, as the majority 70of respondents to the surveys in lockdown were women, researchers said.

Professor Emond, a public health expert, said: “The strong link between binge drinking and regular gambling is of particular concern, as they are both addictive behaviours which can have serious health and social consequences.

“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 minimise gambling harms.”

The research builds on other evidence, including the YouGov Covid-19 tracker study, which found regular gamblers turned to new online options during lockdown.

Co-author Professor Agnes Nairn, an online advertising expert at the University of Bristol, added: “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.

“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.”

Claire Murdoch, national mental health director at NHS England, said: “The NHS is stepping up and opening specialist gambling addiction clinics across the country, but industry giants also need to step up and trade responsibly.

“Throughout the pandemic, the NHS has been there to support people during difficulties they have faced during lockdown, and if you are struggling with a gambling addiction or any other mental health problem, the NHS is here to help.”

The study, Gambling by young adults in the UK during Covid-19 lockdown, is published in the Journal of Gambling Studies.

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