Victorians’ losses to online bookmakers amounted to over AU$1.4bn (US$1.07bn) in the second half of 2020, an increase of AU$375m from the same period in 2019, amid Covid-19 restrictions in Melbourne.
In its recent mid-year financial report, the state government revealed its gambling tax revenue figures for June to December 2020, with losses to online bookmakers rising up to 35% on pre-pandemic levels.
Melbourne spent four months in lockdown amid a second wave of Covid-19 during the latter stages of 2020, with physical gambling venues forced into closures to prevent the spread of the virus.
Gambling reform campaigners say aggressive gambling industry advertising is largely behind the increase in losses, and have renewed calls for the sector to have its TV and online advertising abilities limited.
“We knew that when gambling venues shut there would be a bombardment of gambling ads, particularly when children were confined to their homes, and that there was a real risk of this kind of outcome,” said Alliance for Gambling Reform acting executive director Margaret Quixley.
“This was entirely predictable because when we went through the global financial crisis we saw the same thing, people experiencing social isolation and financial distress are at greater risk of gambling harm.”
The wagering industry has, however, dismissed such claims, arguing that there is no evidence to say it has increased advertising throughout the pandemic.
Brent Jackson, chief executive of Responsible Wagering Australia, said: “Complaints against the wagering code for adverts are down to .31 per cent of all complaints, it’s negligible. We’re doing the right thing already, the evidence is as clear as a bell.
“There’s just no evidence of any problem whatsoever.”