Most sports gamblers reduced their bets during the first coronavirus lockdown but a third gambled more frequently, according to new research.
Academics found one in six sports bettors began a new form of gambling during the lockdown.
Researchers from Glasgow and Stirling universities used YouGov to survey 3,866 gamblers online about their bets prior to and during the initial lockdown in March to June last year, when professional sports were largely suspended and bookmakers closed.
They found the majority of regular sports bettors cut down on their gambling, with about one third – 29.8% of men and 33.4% of women – stopping completely.
However, 17.3% of men and 16.5% of women started a new form of gambling during the three-month period, while 31.3% of men and 30.3% of women gambled more often on at least one activity.
Those who started a new form, such as lotteries or betting on virtual sports and races, or gambled more during lockdown, are potentially vulnerable to gambling harms, the study found.
For male sports bettors, problem gambling was a greater risk among those who started a new gambling activity during lockdown, and for women, moderate risk or problem gambling was higher among those whose frequency of gambling on any activity increased during lockdown.
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.
“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 behaviours are changing during national lockdowns and doing more to protect people from harms.”
Professor Kate Hunt, of the University of Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing and Health, said the minority of sports bettors who continued to bet on live sport used horse races and sports available in other countries.
She added: “Our findings are just one part of a broader study which also looks at people’s experiences and the advertising and marketing of gambling during the first UK lockdown.
“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.”
The findings, published in the journal Addictive Behaviours, are part of a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
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