A new study has revealed a 67 per cent increase in online gambling was measured in the first week after the closure of venues, underlining previous arguments for less criticism of licensed gaming venues.

The research by credit bureau Illion and analytics company AlphaBeta was based on transactions of 250,000 Australian consumers and found gambling was one of the industries benefitting most from the coronavirus containment measures, along with delivery services and online subscriptions.

While sports betting and wagering online is legal in Australia, poker and casino-style games are strictly prohibited under the Interactive Gambling Act.

The research did not delineate on type or legality of the online betting increase measured, but the clear indication is that it is driven by the reduced accessibility to the regular channels used by the gamblers.

Experts have long been concerned of the potential for recreational and problem gamblers to shift to online offerings, given they don’t typically carry anywhere near the safeguards mandated in a licensed premise in Australia.

SBS News reports associate professor Charles Livingstone of Monash University now says those that switch to online are potentially at even higher risk.

“There are no real limits to online gambling, and you can use credit cards to top up online gambling accounts, which you can’t use in pubs or clubs.”

This reality has previously been a strong argument in favour of gaming venues, given the regulations around Responsible Conduct of Gambling (RCG), plus the fact that revenue from the machines returns to the community by way of taxes, wages and a local business.

Livingstone is a long-time critic of the industry, previously showing preference to limitation measures and reduction in the number of machines if not complete eradication.

“EGMs are the single greatest cause of gambling harm in Australia (and, increasingly, globally). Appropriate regulation and reform of the operation and governance of this segment of the gambling industry is necessary if we are serious about reducing this harm,” he stated in an interview with PubTIC in 2016.

The topic of online gaming filling the void of EGMs removed from venues was covered in the interview, but while neither of us contemplated the COVID-19 pandemic and its universal effect on all licensed venues, the associate professor nonetheless disputed the outcome. 

“There is little evidence that EGM gamblers (whether classified as problem gamblers or otherwise) take up online gambling if EGMs are restricted.”

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