The coronavirus shut down of pubs and clubs has led to a small drop in gambling frequency for the average person, but no improvement among problem gamblers, a new study has revealed.
The University of Sydney study has found that in the six months since gambling venues were shut down due to pandemic and subsequently re-opened, the average person reduced the number of times they gambled.
Researchers from the university’s Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic and Technology Addiction Team conducted a series of online surveys in May, August and November to measure the impacts of changes in the availability of gambling in pubs, clubs, and casinos on Australians’ gambling habits.
On average, survey respondents reduced the number of times they engaged in different land-based and online gambling activities from 34 times per month pre-COVID to 31 times per month in November.
Participants who were already experiencing gambling problems did not change how frequently they gambled compared to pre-COVID levels.
The preliminary results “indicate that most people are gambling less frequently, even as venues re-open and we start to get back to normal life”, University of Sydney technology addiction researcher Nicola Black said.
However, “more efforts are needed to help people experiencing gambling problems to get the support they need”, Dr Black said.
“Our findings highlight how hard it can be for people experiencing gambling problems to change their gambling behaviour,” she said.
“Asking for help takes a lot of courage, but effective treatments are available and recovery is possible.”
‘I wished the venues stayed shut’
The researchers surveyed 462 adults who had gambled in the past year, mostly based on the east coast of Australia but excluding Victorians due to the state’s second hard lockdown.
The average age of those surveyed was 45 years, and 87 per cent were male.
Some respondents said that their gambling habits had changed since venues reopened, and that the shutdown had helped them address their gambling habits.
“Have made decision to restrict my playing the pokies to shorter amounts of time,” one respondent said.
The time away during COVID gave me time to reflect on what was becoming an unhelpful habit.”
Another respondent said it would be hard to stay away from gambling as venues reopened.
“I know that now the venues are opening I will go back,” they said.
“Hopefully lesser but in any event, I wished the venues stayed shut!”
Study lead and Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic director Sally Gainsbury said the preliminary results showed that many people require more help to tackle problem gambling.
“Our findings from the first survey in May indicated many people found the venue closures were helping them to break their gambling problem; but these latest findings suggest that in many cases, their problems may have persisted,” Associate Professor Gainsbury said.
We may still be in a window where people experiencing problems are more open to changing their gambling habits.
“However, without professional support, overcoming entrenched gambling problems can be very hard.”
The Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic offers free, confidential services for individuals and families impacted by gambling with no referral needed. To make an appointment phone 1800 482 482 or email [email protected]
For referral to services across Australia call 1800 858 858 or visit gamblinghelponline.org.au