How did the pandemic affect online gambling?

The Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) Centre for the Advancement of Best Practices has collaborated with the Ontario Gambling Research Society on a provincial study examining how online gambling behaviours were affected in the first year of COVID-19.

The study was released this month and provides the results of a three-step survey conducted between April and December of 2020 during the first and second waves of the pandemic.

RGC CEO Shelley White concluded that the council found that “a sizeable percentage” of gamblers increased their online gambling involvement during this period as they spent more time at home and as land-based gaming was shut down for a lengthy timespan, spending more time and money gambling and playing on more sites.

Among the report’s key conclusions were that more Ontario-based gamblers migrated to online gambling throughout the pandemic, including those who had primarily gambled in person before COVID-19. In Wave 1 of the survey, just a few weeks into the pandemic, just over half (54 per cent) of gamblers reported playing online since the initial lockdown in March 2020. This proportion rose significantly to nearly nine in 10 (87 per cent of) in Wave 3, at the end of 2020.

The most popular online gambling games were lotto or raffle ticket draws, instant lottery, electronic gambling machines, casino table games, and sports betting. Almost two-thirds of respondents said they gambled on, which was the only legal iGaming site in Ontario at the time of the study and remained so until April 4, 2022. Nearly one-third of respondents reported gambling on offshore or non-regulated sites during the pandemic.

In total, one-third of online gamblers in Wave 1 and 2 and almost half (45 per cent) of online gamblers in Wave 3 reported gambling online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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On the responsible gaming side, there were positive conclusions from the study. Primarily, almost 90 per cent of gamblers said they’ve used spending-limit features on online gambling sites, and many also reported using time-limit features.

White added that the RGC has built on these findings to develop programs in order to provide high-priority demographics, such as young adult men, with greater access to key information about the importance of setting time and money limits.

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