The number of Australians taking part in gambling dropped by more than 2.6 million people during the coronavirus pandemic compared to the previous year, new research has shown.
The forced closure of pubs and clubs at the beginning of the year dramatically reduced access to gambling and the overall rate fell from the nearly 66 per cent pre-pandemic level to about 53 per cent, according to new data from the Australian National University.
As venues reopened, the rate lifted, also due to a surge in onling gambling, but it still remained well below the pre-pandemic level with the figure trending higher to nearly 59 per cent by November.
The research showed far fewer Australians participated in a range of gambling channels from April 2019 to May 2020, with an estimated 2.7 million less adults buying raffle tickets, 1.7 million fewer playing a lottery game and 1.6 million fewer adults playing poker machines or gaming machines at a venue.
“When you look at the types of gambling that has changed the most, it is very much an access issue,” lead researcher professor Nicholas Biddle told the NCA NewsWire.
The survey also found people were drinking and smoking less, too.
“There was a reduction in a range of what we call risk taking behaviours,” Mr Biddle said.
“We found a decrease in alcohol consumption, decrease in smoking, and a fall in gambling.”
A spike in alcohol sales was due to panic buying, the research found.
“It’s true people were purchasing more alcohol but they weren’t necessarily consuming it, so it was part of the hoarding behaviour as people were concerned the liquor stores were going to close,” Prof Biddle said.
Prof Biddle said greater public health information would help prevent problem gambling as well as using modern data to target those most at risk, such as people with impatient characteristics who tend to focus on short term rewards as opposed to long term rewards.