The gambling industry as a whole includes far more activities than we may initially think of. When we think of the word ‘gambling’, we often see images of casinos and betting shops – but the industry spreads far further than that. When talking to people about this, they are often shocked to hear that activities such as bingo or amusement arcades are classed as gambling – but they most certainly are. In fact, the Gambling Commission categorises gambling into six sectors – arcades, betting, bingo, casinos, lotteries and gaming machines.
One of the traditional features of all of these sectors is the requirement of a physical premises in which to gamble. Betting has bookmakers, bingo has halls and gaming machines can even pop up in the most unlikely of places. Instinctively, we may think that gambling-related harm must therefore be reduced as a result of the current lockdown measures in the UK – however, we are highly concerned that the opposite is likely to be true.
Each of these sectors have online alternatives – which we have begun to see dominate the industry in recent years. In fact, just under 40% of the profits which were made by the gambling industry last year were from this sector alone. Not in betting shops, bingo halls or casinos – but on smartphones, tablets and computers.
When the impact of people spending more time at home is coupled with the hiatus of sporting events, it is unsurprising that the Guardian recently identified that people are making a clear move from sports betting to casino betting – a move which may well be encouraged by the industry. While it is still early to identify the impact of the lockdown on gambling in general, we already know some stark differences between types of gambling and gambling-related harm.
The most recent figures show that 2.5% of those who engage in online betting are identified as having a problem; a figure which rises sharply to 9.2% of those who engage in online bingo and casino games. Of course, this doesn’t show causation. Do online casinos lead to compulsive gambling, or does compulsive gambling lead people to online casinos? We don’t know.
What we do know is that there is a link – and with most, if not all, gambling premises closed, people will go online. Also, with most sports betting at a virtual standstill, people will turn to casino gambling instead. This will be a massive shift in how people are gambling – in a direction which we know is associated with higher gambling-related harm; and this is something we should all be concerned about.
There are services available to provide support to those who need it. Most online gambling services feature in-built restrictions – whether this be a time limit or a spending cap. The National Gambling Helpline is available 24/7 to provide free advice on 0808 8020 133 – and additionally, GAMSTOP is a free self-exclusion service which restricts use of apps and online services – more information about the scheme can be found at their website here.