A number of problem gambling advocates have argued that the recent boom of online casinos is likely to bring about negative consequences – not only for the gamblers themselves but also for their friends and family, as well as their communities. Their concerns escalated during the global lockdown brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guest author Fabio Duarte looks at the changes in gambling behaviour during COVID-19. To find out more about Fabio Duarte, click here.
Online casinos reported a significant increase in player traffic and gross gaming revenues during the lockdown. UK casinos like https://slotsjudge.com/ witnessed a significant increase in gaming action during the extended lockdown as UK players were unable to go to land-based casinos and turned online for their gaming needs.
While anti-gambling campaigners argue that the increase in online gambling activity during the lockdown also spiked an increase in problem gambling behavior, we need to look at things objectively in order to see if their claims are right or wrong.
More Players Gambling But Gambling Habits Do Not Change
A recent study conducted by Håkansson (2020) on the Swedish gaming market showed that the spike in online casinos during the initial stages of the pandemic was driven more by new players, rather than old players who upped their gaming intensity.
Unlike other forms of gambling, such as sports bets, bingo parlours, or poker, online casino games have no need for any social interaction, nor are they dependent on the staging of public sports events.
Despite the revenue surges enjoyed by online casinos in the last 15 months, Håkansson noted that these changes were driven more by the influx of new players. This includes players recently coming of age, migrants from the land-based casino world, and curious players finding themselves with extra free time.
Compared to their gaming habits pre-pandemic, these players have not significantly increased their stakes or deposits, and appear to be in no danger for problem gambling.
Problem Gamblers are Gambling More
Anti-gambling advocates are not entirely wrong in their online gambling review assumptions. While the majority of online casino players are keeping well within their pre-pandemic casino budgets, problem gamblers have been found to up their betting habits significantly since the lockdowns.
Internet gambling during the pandemic has unleased problematic gambling behaviors among this small sub-group of players. Due to the moratorium on many other gambling ventures during the pandemic peaks of 2020, problem gamblers have migrated to online casino spaces.
For example, prolific sports or horse bettors had to find a way to find action when horse races were cancelled and moved to online casinos. The shift to a new gambling venue, one that offers more fast-paced action, may end up throwing novice online casino players into the deep end, where they become vulnerable to unhealthy gambling patterns.
According to Håkansson, while a majority of players’ playing patterns remained consistent both pre- and post-pandemic, those who reported changes in their post-pandemic gaming were much more likely to exhibit signs of problem gambling.
It is much too early to state with any given certainty what should be done to help these vulnerable players. But it is clear that more studies need to be conducted using concrete data to ensure that healthy gamblers are not going to bear the brunt of restrictive new regulations.
Gambling Watchdogs Extra Vigilant
Gambling watchdogs like the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) and the Swedish Gambling Authority (SGA) sent out a strong warning to licensed gambling operators telling them not to take advantage of their players during COVID-19. Sweden decided to impose new gambling regulations during the COVID-19 lockdown to offer their players better protection.
Some of the new regulations imposed during the lockdown included setting bonus and deposit restrictions to prevent players from going overboard with their betting and gaming requirements. iGaming operators in Sweden were not happy with these temporary restrictions and pointed out that their revenues would be hurt but the SGA decided to go ahead with the same.
The stats show that the global online gambling market as a whole has experienced a significant increase in player traffic and gaming revenues during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. However, the gambling behaviour of most players has not changed as much as gambling opponents would like you to think. A small segment of problem gamblers have shown tendencies to bet more frequently and bet bigger during the lockdown.
To take the gambling habits of this diminutive segment and paint the entire online gambling market with the same brush is a false narrative.