The coronavirus pandemic has forced the closure of clubs and casinos, leaving experts concerned about the potential for problem gamblers to shift online, without some of the safeguards that exist while using poker machines at the club or casino.
Monash University associate professor Charles Livingstone told SBS News that for those who did make the switch online, the risks were potentially even higher.
"There is a difficulty for some people who are going to be tempted to shift their gambling expenditure online and for these people there could be quite serious consequences," he said.
Gamblers at poker machines in Brisbane
"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."
According to data collected by analytics consultancy AlphaBeta and credit firm Illion, and first reported in the Nine papers, online gambling has seen a rapid growth.
There has been a 67 percent increase during the first week of clubs and casinos being closed due to the coronavirus lockdown alone.
Professor Livingstone said the government needed to step up and regulate the online betting space, banning credit card usage and placing bet limits and daily loss maximums for online betting sites.
While horse racing is still running globally, major sporting codes such as the AFL and NRL have shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Online bookies have had to turn to more novel markets to try and encourage people to bet.
Professor Samantha Thomas, a gambling expert from Deakin University, said that these novel markets involving obscure sports and reality TV betting were also risky.
"They are offering newer and quite strange markets for people to gamble on. So they may include Russian table tennis or Nicaraguan soccer," she told SBS News.
And politics is not immune.
One online betting company in Australia is allowing punters to bet on what colour tie Prime Minister Scott Morrison will wear to his next press conference (the odds on favourite is blue).
While a US betting site is taking bets on how many times US President Donald Trump will use his favourite words or phrases in his daily press conference.
But Professor Thomas said that these novelty markets still presented a risky proposition for problem gamblers.
She said gambling research shows that people are more likely to lose more money in times of great emotional or financial stress, such as the situation many Australians find themselves in now.
"We have a community that is potentially now under a lot of stress, we have them isolated at home, potentially bored and some of those people will be accessing lump sums of money.
"All of those things contribute to the risk of problem gambling," she said.
Professor Livingstone also pointed to people having access to up to $20,000 of their superannuation as a potential risk for those with a gambling problem.
"The stress people are under at the moment - social stress, financial stress, plus the stress of being locked up - this is sort of a devil's brew in terms of fuelling gambling of those who have a disposition towards that sort of behaviour," he said.
He added that without stricter regulation of the online betting market, some people may end up in more harm than may otherwise have been the case.
"Just letting online gambling continue unabated without any restrictions in place means that a fair proportion of those people will get into even more trouble than they might have with the pokies," he said.
"I think we can and should act to ensure people don’t end up in more trouble coming out of this as they did going into it," Professor Livingstone added.
Readers seeking assistance can contact the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858.
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