Around one in six sports bettors was attracted to a new form of sports betting during the initial COVID-19 lockdown, and one in three placed bets more frequently, according to a new study done by the experts from the Universities of Glasgow and Stirling. They managed to find a pattern in the gambling behaviors of those who regularly bet on sports before and during the first UK lockdown between March and June last year when professional sports were suspended, and gambling venues closed.
The research team concluded that there was a reduction in the majority of regular sports bettors as there was very little live sport to bet on – with around one-third stopping betting completely. However, 17.3% of men and 16.5% of women started a new form of gambling during the same period, while the frequency of gambling increase by 31.3% in men and 30.3% in women on at least one activity. Those who started a new form, or increased the frequency, of gambling during lockdown are potentially vulnerable to gambling harms, the study found.
The findings will help inform the review of the Gambling Act 2005, currently being conducted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. Dr Heather Wardle, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Social and Political Sciences, said: “Unsurprisingly, our study found that, during the initial lockdown in March 2020, with the closure of gambling venues – such as bookmakers – and a huge reduction in live sports, there was a marked decrease in sports gambling.”
He further added, “However, some regular sports bettors started new forms of gambling or increased how often they bet on other things, and these changes were associated with increased risk of gambling harms. These findings are important and suggest that regulators and the industry should be looking closely at how behaviors are changing during national lockdowns and doing more to protect people from harm.”
Professor Kate Hunt, of the University of Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing and Health (ISMH), said: “Our study found that, among regular sports bettors, restrictions in supply during lockdown generated changes in behavior, including reductions in gambling for the majority, who did not appear to seek out other ways to gamble.
He also elaborated, “However, when examining online sports betting, a minority continued to bet as some horse races and sports were still available in other countries. The findings will provide important food for thought about how gambling and the gambling industry are best regulated – and, importantly, provides timely evidence to inform the ongoing review of the Gambling Act 2005, currently being undertaken by the UK Government.”
Using the online survey platform YouGov, the researchers surveyed regular sports bettors – those who have been placing bets on sports (including horse races) at least once a month. The participants – 3,084 men and 782 women – were also asked about their gambling attitudes, awareness of the betting market, and any health and lifestyle experiences associated with COVID-19.
The study found 29.8% of male and 33.4% of female sports bettors barred themselves during the lockdown. Prior to lockdown, online sports betting was the most commonly reported gambling activity among this group (78.8% men, 61.4% women), followed by the lottery (62.1% men, 65.2% women), online betting on horse or dog races (43.2% men, 50.5% women) and sports betting at a bookmaker (26.7% men, 16.1% women).
Christina Marriott, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: “We know, for example, that sports bettors adapted their gambling habits, with many having turned to new forms of gambling activity. Protecting those at risk of gambling harm must be central to the updates to the UK’s gambling laws. Our Gambling Health Alliance welcomed the online player protections introduced in the first lockdown and called for these to remain in place.”