At the start of the first lockdown, when sport was effectively shut down, gambling fell by a third, because, short of snail racing, there was a dearth of things to bet on. However, a University of Glasgow and Stirling report found that a sixth of regular sports gamblers soon found alternatives, and a third started betting more.
Then, as soon as the sport ban was lifted, gambling was off to the races. And while the lockdowns have kept people away from sporting events and bookmakers’, online betting has soared.
Gambling always rises in a downturn. People who are worried about their financial future are more likely to turn to gambling in the hope it will help solve their problems. The nature of gambling is to produce more losers than winners, so it’s far more likely to make things worse, but people will try anything when they’re desperate.
To make matters worse, we’re all bored out of our minds right now too. Gambling offers an escape from everyday drudgery, and some excitement, so it appeals to people when the highlight of their week is a trip to the supermarket.
It’s not just sport and online games that have been affected, there has been a surge in gambling on the stock market too, particularly among younger men. This is wildly different from sensible, diversified, long-term investments, tailored to your risk profile. Instead, some people are taking their tips from social media and taking a punt on things that are completely unsuitable for their circumstances.
FCA research found that many investors who put money into high risk products are thrill seekers, investing for a challenge, competition and for the novelty factor, rather than conventional reasons like saving for retirement. Thirty eight per cent of those surveyed didn’t list a single functional reason for putting money into their top three investments.
It’s why the FCA issued a warning last week against young people putting money into very high-risk investments, on the word of social media influencers, without fully understanding what they can lose. It’s also why established platforms are working to encourage traders to diversify their holdings.
The growth of gambling doesn’t necessarily mean a boom in problem gambling, because the percentage of the population with gambling problems tends to remain static. However, you don’t need to have an addiction or a compulsion for gambling to leave you worse off. If you’re on a tight budget, every penny counts. So money that’s being lost through online betting could do far more good being put towards essentials, or a savings account.
Fortunately, you can actually get the best of both worlds, so you can salt away cash safely, and yet enter a draw to win up to £1m every month - without ever losing your stake. Premium Bonds have been rocketing in popularity during the pandemic, with over £2 billion pouring in between the February and March draws alone. You do give up the opportunity to earn interest in return.
But at a time when interest rates and inflation are so low, millions of people are prepared to pay that price for the chance to win a prize.
Other banks are trying to get in on the act, by offering savings with a prize draw on the side. Natwest is running a £1,000 prize draw for everyone who opens a Digital Regular Saver in March, and puts money in during April, May and June. Nationwide, offers entry into a £100 draw for anyone with a Start to Save account who saves the requisite amount of money in three consecutive months leading up to the draws (in April, July and October).
There will be plenty of people who argue that the potential rewards aren’t exciting enough so these things don’t work as a gambling proxy.
However, be honest with yourself, and if there’s any chance you’re gambling with money you can’t afford to lose or neglecting other key spending, you’re probably doing more harm than good.