Search interest in online casinos has hit an all-time high in Britain since the lockdown began, data show. Google Trends shows gambling has moved online amid the closure of physical gambling venues and the cancellation of sporting events.
Troubled gamblers have told the BBC that locking down is a “recipe for disaster”. Watchdog, the Gambling Commission said, there was an increase in some online gambling, but there was no evidence yet of an increase in problem gambling.
How has gambling changed?
Despite the overall decline in gambling, the commission says across the industry there has been an increase in some customers playing online slots, poker, casino games and virtual sports.
The gamblers involved also spend more time or money during lockdowns, data show. Anna Hemmings, chief executive of GamCare, a UK charity helping with gambling problems, said there was “a worrying context for people at risk”. He said “contributing factors [to gambling problems], such as financial hardship, isolation and boredom” increased with Covid-19. Watchdog has provided new guidelines to gambling companies to help their customers. “We are monitoring online operators closely and if we see irresponsible behavior, we will step in immediately, suspending licenses if necessary,” said commission chief executive Neil McArthur.
The BBC speaks to people recovering from compulsive gambling on condition of anonymity. Steve, who works as a manager and is married, has maxed out his credit card and has 14 concurrent payday loans to cover his debts before he seeks help. “Access to online gambling on cell phones during the lockdown is a recipe for disaster,” he said.