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How COVID-19 Fueled Gambling Addictions

There are some interesting trends that emerged during these past 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Behaviors changed dramatically, due to quarantines and social distancing regulations (including an increase in substance abuse). And though casinos would like you to think that gambling problems subsided due to closures and a lack of accessibility, that is hardly the case.


NBC News recently highlighted a story showing how and why gambling dependencies grew dramatically in 2020. To the casinos’ point, in-person betting saw a sharp decline due to closures and travel restrictions. But online gambling skyrocketed and has continued growing through 2021.


Keith Whyte, Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, was interviewed for the NBC piece. He was very critical of the way casinos and the Association of the American Gaming Association positioned their narrative over the last year. Their story would have you believe that there was a decrease in compulsive betting during COVID-19, which is absolutely untrue.


“When you look at that overall participation trend, online gambling participation – online gambling, and mobile gambling and sports betting – exploded during the pandemic,” Whyte explained. “We’re seeing increases of hundreds of percent in online and mobile gambling. And now of course that sports are back, sports wagering is going through the roof.”


He also made a point to highlight the reasons behind this latest trend. Loneliness and isolation were called out as key contributors, as was overall stress. As Whyte put it, many people were looking for an outlet to escape the negative headlines and the allure of gaming sites welcomed them right in.


It is also worth noting that overall boredom may have added to this trend too. Being locked down and limited in their interactions drove many people to their phones during COVID-19.  And deceptive gaming apps were ready to pounce, with targeted ads right in the middle of those interactive searches.


Whyte had some thoughts on these gaming companies and the easy accessibility they provide for someone browsing the app store. “One of the risk factors for gambling on your mobile phone — besides the immediate access and the direct notifications — is the fact that most gambling companies now essentially have one-touch betting.” Whyte added. “But what gamblers may not know is that the same way Amazon collects all your larger data to try and personalize
and sell you a product that they think you really want, gambling companies are collecting all that data and targeting and tailoring their offers and sometimes even their games to the specific gambler.”


This is certainly a warning that everyone should be aware of, as more and more people fall prey to these dangerous (and costly) dependencies.