‘All on red’ as gamblers try their luck at Trump’s tie colour instead of the roulette table

Published:17 April 2020

CQUniversity gambling and addiction specialist Dr Alex Russell has seen a spike in novelty bets during COVID-19 restrictions

Casinos and major sporting events around the world may be on hiatus, but this has not stopped avid gamblers who have turned to alternative platforms in a bid to satisfy their betting habits.

A spike in online gambling is set to continue as COVID-19 restrictions progress explained CQUniversity gambling and addiction specialist Dr Alex Russell, as gamblers adapt their lifestyles to digital platforms.

“In Australia, the only online gambling currently offered are sports and race betting, Keno, lottery tickets and novelty betting. With no major sports being played, online wagering operators now offer bets on whatever topic they can find such as the weather, reality shows and even what colour tie US President Donald Trump will wear at his next press conference.

“While these novelty bets have always been offered, online operators have seen the current restrictions as an opportunity to increase their promotions in the market and make up lost sports revenue. The broad range of topics means anyone can find an area of interest, although some can be a bit tasteless – when Boris Johnson was in intensive care, some operators took bets on who will be the next British Prime Minister.”

When the Australian government released fiscal packages to offset the hit to growth from COVID-19, many people suddenly had more disposable income than they were expecting.

“Statistics show people gamble more and engage in other forms of discretionary spending when stimulus packages are released,” Dr Russell said.

While some people may turn to these novelty bets, gambling researchers and regulators are more concerned about the risk to consumers who resort to online gambling websites hosted overseas.

“Australian-licensed operators have strict regulations regarding their offerings. Overseas websites can provide all sorts of products online depending on where they are based,” he warned.

“There are online casinos that host online pokies. People can bet real money so Australians may be tempted to go to these websites to get their fix. Although offshore sites may seem like a good substitute, changes to the Interactive Gambling Act in the 2017 Amendment Act have made these gambling sites from outside Australia illegal.

“Reputable providers actively block individuals with Australian IP addresses and investigate where funds are transferred from. This leaves questionable operators who intend to take money from Australians before they disappear. There are fewer regulations around whether the games are fair and no recourse for consumers.”

An online system results in a cashless casino which Dr Russell cautioned can mean consumers are less aware of their financial situation and the damage done until they receive their bank statements.

“An online operator needs money in their account before you can place a bet. Bank transfers are less popular because they are not immediate, instead many use credit cards.

“The problem with using credit cards for gambling is that transfers to gambling companies are not online purchases. There are no interest-free days as they are considered cash advances. People are hit with a higher interest rate and even cash advance fees.”

While the online gambling industry may have come out as a big winner during the nationwide shutdown – gambling addicts have not been so lucky.

“Normally, people turn to things like gambling during stressful times, sitting in front of a pokie machine allows some people to zone out but this can put an extra strain on people unable to access their usual forms of gambling. This coping mechanism can be difficult to step away from as the platforms are now in their homes with mobile phones, computers, tablets or videogame consoles.

“If you are going to gamble, stick with the forms that are offered in Australia. Better yet, use this enforced break from the pokies and sports betting as an opportunity to get away from gambling altogether.”

Support is available through Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858 or for free, confidential help, 24/7.