Research project to investigate impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on gamblers

On 4 June 2020, a question was posed in the House of Commons by Labour MP, Kate Green, about the need for action to prevent a rise in harmful online gambling during the COVID-19 lockdown. That question implied that evidence of such a rise might exist. As matters stand, the position remains as stated by the Gambling Commission on 12 May 2020, namely “there is no evidence to suggest an increase in problem gambling”.

That may or may not remain the case as further time passes by and fresh statistical evidence becomes available.

What will provide insight into this question in due course will be the result of an 18-month research project – funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19 – that will consider the effect of the pandemic restrictions on young adults and sports bettors – and analyse the promotion and marketing of gambling products during the lockdown.

The project will be jointly led by Professor Kate Hunt and Dr Nathan Critchlow, from the University of Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing and Health (ISMH), and Dr Heather Wardle, of the University of Glasgow. The team includes a number of other scientists from both institutions, as well as from the University of Edinburgh.

The University of Stirling’s website states as follows:

The researchers will consider how risk factors – such as boredom, stress, anxiety, financial problems and loneliness – may have heightened during lockdown. They will also look at gambling opportunities unaffected by the restrictions – such as online slots and casino games, e-sports and virtual events – which are associated with high rates of problem gambling.

The team will also look at how gambling behaviours change as the lockdown eases, including when major sports events restart.

As part of the project, surveys will be conducted with young people (aged 16 to 24) and sports bettors; gambling companies’ marketing and promotional activities will be assessed; and qualitative interviews will be carried out with people who have experience of betting, including those deemed to be in the ‘high risk’ group.

The study will expedite the sharing of its findings with key stakeholders that have expressed concerns around the inherent social, economic and health harms associated with risky forms of gambling – including the World Health Organisation, the Gambling Commission, and the Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group.

Commenting on the forthcoming research, Professor Hunt is quoted as saying:

Around two million people in the UK are either problem gamblers or experience some harm from gambling. The restrictions imposed by the pandemic – whether on people’s movements and interactions, or the cancellation of major sporting and social events – have altered the gambling landscape worldwide. Our new study is seeking to address three major questions: how have gambling practices, and the risk factors around gambling harms, changed due to the pandemic; what has been the effect on gambling marketing; and how have the experiences and practices of high risk groups altered. We will focus on two groups at particular risk of adopting more risky, online gambling practices – young adults and sports bettors.

Dr Wardle adds:

There is an urgent need to provide regulators, policymakers, and treatment providers with high quality evidence on the changing patterns and context of gambling behaviours during COVID-19 and its aftermath. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore what happens when certain types of gambling opportunities are severely curtailed. Our study will provide an important insight into the actions undertaken by industry, so regulators can consider immediate actions, and an understanding of new risk groups susceptible to gambling harms to develop effective prevention strategies. It will also present important information around the escalation and maintenance of harms, to inform treatment and support provision.

Vladimir Poznyak, World Health Organisation lead for substance abuse and addictive behaviours, is also quoted:
It is exceptionally important to understand how gambling is changing under COVID-19 and to use insight from high-quality data to inform appropriate policy and regulatory responses.