The Deadly Bug That’s Not COVID-19

While this year has seen positive change in many different aspects of society, such as improving hygiene practices, boosting community awareness as well as supporting local businesses, the pandemic has also amplified many existing concerns.

“Don’t get the gambling bug.” Warns Matt Hanks (a pseudonym), a recovering gambling addict.

Gambling is a part of the Australian culture, whether we like it or not. We can recite and find humour in many of their commercials. The Melbourne Cup is truly a day that sweeps the nation, with thousands of Australians eagerly placing bets in the hope to cash in on the big prize.

But this isn’t a problem right? A few bets here and there at the pub on a Friday night isn’t anything to worry about?

That’s where we might need to change our thoughts on gambling.

“The reality of it is, 85% of the advocate harmed are coming from low to moderate risk gambling.” States Kate Roberts, executive officer of the Gambling Impact Society. So, in fact it is the individuals engaging in semi frequent betting as a form of slight entertainment that are the most at risk of developing a gambling addiction. While this is a cause for concern already, the pandemic has only amplified this issue.

While the casinos are closed and most pubs are shut, the digital era has allowed for gambling culture to expand onto the internet. ‘Offshore online casinos’ are the pandemic’s poker machines, with many individuals engaging with these apps and websites as an alternative.

“Many of these [offshore casinos] are unregulated… this means that [scammers] potentially could steal their bank details or identity,” explains Anastasia Hronis, clinical psychologist and lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney.

These offshore sites are illegal, so there is no regulation on the fairness of games, or the type of games offered. Many individuals engaging with these sites are unaware that they are not based in Australia, as website developers go to great lengths to make it appear local by using Australian currency and displaying our flag.

Another concern about these sites are their online nature. While the casino and clubs are forced to close at certain times, these machines never turn off. Anyone can place at bet at anytime, anywhere. This newfound freedom in a time of uncertainty breeds addiction.

“The risk is these habits become engrained,” Warns Sally Gainsbury, professor in the school of psychology at the University of Sydney and Co-director at the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic. “When things reopen, you feel more comfortable going in or back.”

While the future is uneasy, the current digital state of gambling opens a door of issues that have not been seen before. The nature of electronic transactions makes it much easier to lose track of your spending, compared to the act of physically taking cash out of an ATM and feeding it into a machine.

“[an individual] saved up $60 000 over 3 years in his bank account, on a quiet boring weekend he came across a gambling website and lost over $50 000… [He] became suicidal,” Matt explains about an individual’s account at his gambling anonymous group in Tasmania, where many have been faced with this issue.

The state of the world has changed our behaviours in ways we have never seen before. Our mental wellbeing is just as important to take care of as our physical health. While it is great to have fun and engage with these activities, ensure you are educating yourself where your money is going and to who, and holding yourself accountable for how much/often you are spending. Gambling may be engrained within our culture, but it is always important to ensure these behaviours don’t become problems.

Listen to the full podcast ‘The Gambling Bug’ here.

Thursday 3rd of September, 2020

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