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Impact of COVID-19 on Online Gambling A General Population Survey During the Pandemic

However within the context of COVID-19, resultant restrictions and lifestyle changes, these considerations became heightened whilst it remained possible to gamble 24 hours per day (Sharman et al., 2021a). These results suggest that the impacts of COVID-19 on gambling and problematic gambling are diverse – possibly causing a reduction in current or future problems in some, but also promoting increased problematic gambling in others. The longer-term implications of both the reduction in overall gambling, and the increase in some vulnerable groups are unclear, and will be better assessed in subsequent follow-up studies.

Information about telephone self-help lines and self-help groups is also needed to be distributed at outpatient psychiatric units and within primary care settings. Furthermore, treatment providers need to be alerted that a new segment of individuals and pandemic-onset gamblers with common mental disorders might request treatment in the wake of the pandemic and that their characteristics could differ from individuals usually seeking treatment. To that end, screening, assessment, and treatment models need to be adapted to encompass a high degree of psychiatric comorbidity. Given the results, more attention needs to be placed on screening women in different healthcare settings in order to detect at-risk and problem gambling. Although overall men and women gambled less frequently during lockdown, partly due to betting shops being closed, some forms of gambling increased. For instance, usage of online gambling, including poker, bingo, and casino games, grew six-fold among regular gamblers.

  • For the remainder of the acute and sub-acute phases of the pandemic, those who bet even on a scarce betting market may be more likely to have gambling problems and should be particularly approached by responsible gambling strategies.
  • Two of these studies (9% [29▪] and 14% [30] increase) used convenience samples recruited through social media and previous research participants.
  • Therefore, again, despite a very large decrease in sports-related gambling opportunities world-wide, individuals who stick to the few gambling options left on the market may be a group presenting particularly high risk of gambling problems.
  • However, as mentioned by Sharman (2020), the industry acted cautiously in some countries.
  • Public Health England (2021) conducted the only review which more confidently suggests that there was a reduction in overall gambling during COVID-19 restrictions; however, this finding applied only to the initial COVID-19 lockdown in the UK [March to June 2020].

This is in line with a study investigating gambling among individuals with mental disorders (Vita et al., 2021), which found a higher prevalence of at-risk and problem gambling among psychiatric patients compared to a community sample. Furthermore, there seems to be a link between at-risk gambling and a higher degree of loneliness and worry due to the pandemic. The results showed that worry plays a central role when it comes to gambling problems and also that more psychiatric diagnoses are related to gambling problems. Since the sample has more women than men, this might be consistent with a review that indicated that women gamble to avoid negative emotions such as everyday stress and psychological comorbidity (Shannon et al., 2017). Also, gambling due to social isolation is an aspect of the reasons why women gamble (Shannon et al., 2017). Gambling could have been used as a maladaptive coping strategy to deal with feelings of isolation and worry.

COVID-19 and resultant restrictions on gambling behaviour

That study also showed an overall decrease in gambling of 13% with a slight increase in online casino gambling but not online gambling overall. This triangulation is important as it is a challenge to separate period effects of the pandemic from longer-term trends like the general reduction in gambling engagement exhibited in many mature gambling markets [45]. If post-pandemic gambling continues to be relatively low, this effect may be related to lingering pandemic effects, preexisting trends or both. Most of the studies to date have targeted populations that were gambling before the pandemic. Research is lacking regarding gambling patterns in other vulnerable populations, such as individuals with low socio-economic status and individuals with common mental disorders with or without other substance abuse disorders.

Characteristics of Past-30-Day Sports Bettors Compared to Past-Year Sports Bettors

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted commercial gambling in jurisdictions around the world. Numerous land-based gambling venues such as casinos, bingo halls, horseracing tracks, bars and clubs with electronic gambling machines (EGMs), lottery retailers, betting shops and poker rooms were forced to close, in particular during the first phase ‘lockdown’ in March and April 2020 [1–4]. Since the initial lockdown, some venues re-opened fully or in a modified fashion, some remain open and others have closed during the second wave restrictions. Like the course of the pandemic itself, the future availability of gambling is unknown and unpredictable. These results suggest that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on gambling and problematic gambling are diverse – possibly causing a reduction in current or future problems in some, but also promoting increased problematic gambling in others.

Mental Health Over Time and Financial Concerns Predict Change in Online Gambling During COVID-19

• Survey studies investigating gambling problems, attitudes and the perceived effects of the pandemic. The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. A list of 35 eligible reports of studies collected from February 2020 until fortune tiger January 2022. Three articles were from North America (all from Canada; Czegledy, 2020; Price, 2020; Turner, 2020), one from Australia (Gainsbury et al., 2020), and one from Asia (India) (George, 2020). Country and region of origin were established by cross-referencing the country and region of origin of the authors and the content of the articles.

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author. As a measure of perceived stress, the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) developed by Cohen, Kamarck and Mermelstein (17) has been administered. It is a well-established self-report measure assessing “the degree to which situations in one’s life are appraised as stressful” [(17), p. 387], and the degree to which life has been experienced as unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overloaded in the past month. • Studies investigating the effects of treatment-seeking and treatment delivery during the pandemic. The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

3. Data extraction and reporting

Our results showed that isolation and worry are related to higher degrees of problem gambling and difficulties due to gambling. The higher rate of problem gambling is in line with previous COVID-related gambling research where vulnerable populations are at increased risk. Also, the mediation analysis showed that there was a link between worry and isolation and pandemic gambling and problems due to gambling. Post-pandemic strategies are needed in order to help different types of vulnerable populations that gamble. Although the study limitations, our findings indicated a consistent proportion of business owners and unemployed individuals who reported pathological gambling during the lockdown period, and a higher level of perceived stress, distress and hostility in both chronic and new gamblers compared to those who never reported gambling behavior. As the prospect theory by Kahneman and Tvesky (28) demonstrated, agents are more sensitive to losses than to gains and even the small chance of a large win can seem very alluring. According to the prospect theory, as losses accumulate, subjects could become more willing to take additional risk, and they could therefore persevere in gambling.

Moreover, with the publication of further gambling studies since previous reviews were published, this paper sought to provide more precise insight into the populations for whom a change in gambling behaviour has been most pronounced. Identification of groups who may be at increased risk is necessary given that gambling subtypes and classifications are needed from a neurobiological and clinical standpoint (Chamberlain et al., 2017). For example, while research has suggested that the median age of people who gamble is 31 years, there is a notable concern about high rates of gambling [and escalating rates] in young people (Woodruff and Gregory, 2005). Other groups may also be at disproportionate risk of gambling problems (see Okuda et al., 2016) and mental health may have deteriorated due to the onset of the pandemic. Although presently limited, existing data suggest that COVID-19-related financial concerns may increase gambling-related harms, and this possibility merits systematic research.

Findings observed at the level of the general population differed from those reported in vulnerable groups, such as in people with a history of gambling disorder or at-risk gambling and in young adults. The majority of the studies were cross-sectional assessments that rely on retrospective reports of gambling prior to the pandemic. Some have already, or plan to complete follow-up surveys with their participants, which will provide high-quality comparative information on post-pandemic status and its implications. However, at least four longitudinal studies exist that have gambling data collected prior to COVID-19 onset. All of these are well-positioned for further follow-ups, although, with the exception of Leonard and colleagues, it is unclear whether these are planned. The investigation by Auer et al.[25▪], which focused specifically on online sports bettors, reported behavioural data from an online operator. In all instances, gambling involvement was collected separately for each gambling activity, which is considered the best methodology [42].

Altogether, the gambling attitudes within and around the world of sports may elevate the risk of athletes actually engaging in this type of fraud. Thus, researchers have called for preventive interventions to include interventions regarding the gambling attitudes and practices of athletes themselves, and interventions against gambling problems in case they occur in athletes (O’Shea et al., 2021). There was conflicting evidence in regards to education and employment and their correlation with gambling behaviour during COVID-19 [Table S5]. Håkansson (2021) found differences in gambling based on employment status whereas other studies found no relationship between gambling and employment status (Emond et al., 2022; Håkansson, 2020a, Håkansson, 2020b; Shaw et al., 2021). Bellringer and Garrett (2021) reported that those who were highly educated were more likely to gamble [online]; however, Biddle (2020) stated that high levels of education were linked to a decline in at-risk gambling. To compound the lack of distinction between education, employment and gambling, Salerno and Pallanti (2021) found that many pathological gamblers were either unemployed or business owners. Where there were declines in gambling, these were larger amongst older people (Biddle, 2020, Lugo et al., 2021).

Individuals who responded to the survey might have experienced less or more severe forms of loneliness and worry and are thus not representative of the population that has common mental disorders. This might have produced inflated results and perhaps a higher prevalence rate of at-risk and problem gambling. However, according to the baseline measurement, the participants had anxiety of differing severity (not necessarily linked with COVID), which indicates that it is similar to a mental health population, making them comparable to a psychiatric population, refer to Rozental et al. (2022) for more information. The fact that worry was a mediator for the gambling problem has implications for treatment and prevention. Screening and targeting worry in gambling populations with vulnerabilities could be a way of lessening the harm that can be present among individuals that have had the gambling problem for a long period of time.

In addition, we used a single-item measure for the construct of social motives for gambling and gaming which may be sensitive to measurement errors. Future research should investigate social motives for gambling and gaming by utilizing a more dimensional and comprehensive measure. Our study was conducted in the context of Finland, which has high institutional trust [4] and where the COVID-19 pandemic has been largely under control. Thus, caution should be taken when interpreting and generalising the results of this study. Future cross-national and longitudinal studies should evaluate the relationships between COVID-19 anxiety, mental health, social motives for playing, and gambling and gaming problems. It has been discussed whether specific other gambling types would attract new users because of the COVID-19, with the fear that some gambling types would put ex-bettors into more addictive gambling because of turning to other than the preferred gambling type. In the present study, for most gambling types, the past-30-day gamblers either did not differ from past-year gamblers, or had a higher degree of gambling problems, such as for sports betting (as discussed above), land-based electronic gambling machines, or land-based casino.

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