The temporary closure of a range of businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic means that many Victorians who are required to stay at home for an extended period will be looking to fill a void in their lives.
The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation anticipates an increase in online gambling may result as people seek to stave off boredom, entertain themselves, de-stress, manage anxiety and so on.
‘Many scenarios can lead people to gamble online,’ says the Foundation’s principal clinical advisor, Tony Clarkson.
‘During this stressful period, some people may seek escape in a new activity or take up gambling again after a break. Those accustomed to visiting a venue to gamble may try online gambling to manage their urges. Others might choose to participate in different forms of gambling available through various apps and websites.’
Online gambling is one of the riskier types of gambling because it is easy to bet and lose a lot of money very quickly.
One reason is that people may not feel like they’re spending real money when they gamble online and/or because they forget to keep track of losses. The option to use credit cards can exacerbate this issue, as consequences are not immediately felt. Another is that the internet never ‘sleeps’, so time seems to just slip away.
Sometimes people are drawn into online gambling through frequent and ‘personalised’ promotional offers via email, SMS, social media, pop-up ads or a combination of all of these.
The promotions make people think about betting more than they normally would. They provide reminders that online games are available any time of the day or night. And they make it seem like everyone will win, even though most people who gamble actually lose more than they win.
Mr Clarkson cautions that online gambling could cause additional stress during an already difficult period of time.
‘Online gambling may not feel satisfactory, and the risk is that people may end up gambling more – and losing more – to satisfy an “urge”,’ he says.
‘The bottom line is that gambling doesn’t always relieve stress, but it can generate additional stress due to financial losses, and cause a person’s wellbeing to suffer.’
Other risks, recently highlighted by the Australian Media and Communications Authority, involve illegal online gambling sites.
While these sites may appear legitimate, they operate outside Australian laws and do not comply with Australian customer protection regulations. Customers have reported being unable to retrieve winnings, the “disappearance” of sites and the unauthorised withdrawal of funds from their bank accounts.
The Foundation encourages anyone negatively affected by their own or someone else’s gambling to call the 24/7 Gambler’s Help service on 1800 858 858 for free, confidential support or visit gamblershelp.com.au/support.
Professionals can provide financial or personal counselling by phone, email, video calls or in other ways and, importantly, will continue to be available while the COVID-19 restrictions are in place.