Sustained drop in gambling frequency since pubs and clubs re-opened

A study to be presented at the Brain and Mind Centre Symposium 2020 today shows that over six months from the early days of COVID-19 to November, gambling frequency reduced, signalling a window of opportunity post-pandemic.

Study lead Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury. Poker chips photo top of page from WikiMedia Commons by Jamie Adams.

Study lead Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury. Photo top of page: Poker chips in WikiMedia Commons by Jamie Adams.

A study by the University of Sydney has found that in the six months since gambling venues were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequently re-opened, the average person reduced the number of times they gambled but no changes were seen among those experiencing gambling problems.

The gambling results will be presented today at the Brain and Mind Centre Symposium, which is focused on what can be expected in brain and mind sciences research.

“Our preliminary results indicate that most people are gambling less frequently, even as venues re-open and we start to get back to normal life, but more efforts are needed to help people experiencing gambling problems to get the support they need,” said Dr Nicola Black, a senior research fellow who will present the results at the Symposium this afternoon.

The group of researchers, based at the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic and Technology Addiction Team in the Brain and Mind Centre, conducted a series of online surveys in May, August and November this year to examine the impacts of changes in the availability of gambling in pubs, clubs, and casinos on Australians’ gambling habits.

Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury, study lead and director of the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic, said the preliminary results indicated that the level of gambling problems experienced by people in the study had not changed over the course of the six-month period.

“Overall, most people with gambling problems seem to have reduced how frequently they gamble compared to pre-COVID levels – but only by a small amount, and not enough to see any real reduction in gambling-related problems,” said Associate Professor Gainsbury, from the Faculty of Science’s School of Psychology.

“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.”

“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.”

Findings include:

  • On average, respondents reduced the number of times they engaged in different land-based and online gambling activities from 34 per month pre-COVID to 31 per month in November 2020.
  • Participants who were already experiencing gambling problems did not change how frequently they gambled compared to pre-COVID.
  • The level of gambling problems experienced by individuals remained stable over the six-month period of the study.

About the survey:

462 Australian adults (87 percent male, average age 45 years) who had gambled in the past 12 months signed up to take part in the study, which involved three online surveys (May, August, and November 2020). Most participants had already gambled online prior to the venue shutdown. Most respondents were from the east coast of Australia. Participants who lived in Victoria were not included in the findings described here as they experienced a different pattern of restrictions during the second wave.

Some respondents indicated that their gambling habits had changed since venues reopened: “Have made decision to restrict my playing the pokies to shorter amounts of time … The time away during COVID gave me time to reflect on what was becoming an unhelpful habit.”

Another said: “I know that now the venues are opening I will go back – hopefully lesser but in any event, I wished the venues stayed shut!”

Dr Nicola Black concludes: “Our findings highlight how hard it can be for people experiencing gambling problems to change their gambling behaviour.

“Asking for help takes a lot of courage, but effective treatments are available and recovery is possible.”

The Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic offers free, confidential services for individuals and families impacted by gambling with no referral needed, funded by the NSW Office of Responsible Gambling. Clients are currently being seen remotely using telephone and video conferencing. To make an appointment phone 1800 482 482 or email us. For referral to services across Australia call 1800 858 858 or visit gamblinghelponline.org.au.

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