Gambling levels in Australia dropped during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but are now returning to pre-pandemic levels, according to a new study from The Australian National University (ANU).  

Director of the ANU Centre for Gambling Research and lead author of the study, Dr Aino Suomi, said the results suggest that restricting access is effective in reducing gambling rates – particularly for those playing poker-machines or betting on sports at low-risk levels.  

“This is especially important as we know poker-machines are one of the most addictive forms of gambling,’” Dr Suomi said.  

“Sports betting and poker-machines are also the forms that have ‘recovered’ the quickest for those individuals who’ve been gambling at risky levels since the pandemic.  

“Once lockdown restrictions began to ease, the gambling participation, as well as gambling risk tended to increase across all categories, including non-gamblers.”  

Importantly, the study also shows high-risk gambling continued during the pandemic, even when access was restricted.   

According to Dr Suomi, this highlights the need to improve supports for those high-risk gamblers, where restricting access may not be enough to curb gambling habits.  

“The important pattern is that those gambling at risky levels were participating in sports betting at disproportionally high levels pre, during and post pandemic,” she said.  

The study included gambling data from 2019 – 2023, collected as part of the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods COVID-19 Impact Monitoring series.   

“Levels of high-risk gambling remained relatively stable across all of these timepoints,” Dr Suomi said.  

“If we look into the data further it could hold important clues about potential identifiers – including things like age, gender, substance use and loneliness – of individuals who returned to gambling after the pandemic, as well as those who abstained.”  

The full report is available online. 

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