UK bookmakers made £613m from online gambling in December 2020, the highest level ever reported for the gambling industry.
The increase comes as people have started to gamble online more since the beginning of the pandemic, when betting shops were first closed in order to combat the spread of COVID-19 in March 2020.
Watch: A CBJ News investigation into online gambling during the pandemic
Almost a year on from the beginning of the pandemic, the number of players using online slots hit a record total of 3.3 million between February and March 2021, grossing a new high of £203m in revenue for the gambling industry.
Ken Smith, who works for Gordon Moody, a charity that offers support and rehabilitation for people with gambling addictions, says that these new figures are concerning.
“The coronavirus lockdown has massively increased the number of people getting into difficulties through gambling,” he says.
They have seen a “substantial” increase in inquiries regarding support for gambling addiction.
(%) Increase in online gambling between February & March 2021
Bray Ash, who developed an online gambling addiction at university and sought help through Gordon Moody, believes that lockdown makes it harder for some people with gambling addictions to recover.
“I started betting quite heavily at 17, but when I turned 18, I could get online accounts and I went to uni, so I would just gamble with my student loan,” he admits.
“I got my student loan once and gambled it away within 24 hours and I would say around 80% of my loan went on gambling.”
Bray, now 28, currently works for a charity as a peer support worker, helping others with gambling addictions.
Watch: Bray Ash discusses the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on gamblers
30-year-old Matt Zarb-Cousin, who is the founder of gambling self-exclusion software Gamban and director of the campaign group Clean Up Gambling, says that the government needs to do more to protect consumers.
“Gamblers are seen as degenerates who get what they deserve.”
Matt Zarb-Cousin, Director of Clean Up Gambling
Also a recovering gambling addict, Matt developed his addiction at the age of 16, after he walked into a bookmaker and won thousands of pounds on slot machines.
“I was completely underage, walked in, and won big straight away. Then I just couldn’t think of anything else, I felt compelled to gamble all of the time,” Matt recalls.
“It ruined my life in so many ways to the point where I didn’t see a way out…other than to take my own life.”
He started his recovery with the support of his parents at the age of 20 and then founded Gamban in 2015 as he saw the potential dangers of online gambling on smartphones.
Watch: Matt Zarb-Cousin talks about the perception of the gambling industry
“The most addictive gambling products are now on the most accessible platforms…it’s so easy now,” he says.
But he says that he is “optimistic” that there will be some change in the future, with the government set to review whether the current gambling laws are fit for the digital age this year.
Whether you bet in betting shops or online, there are practical steps you can take to stay in control of your gambling activities, including self-exclusion. The National Gambling Helpline can provide support on 0808 8020 133. pic.twitter.com/hk4ajijIIp
— Betting and Gaming Council (@BetGameCouncil) April 29, 2021
The Betting & Gaming Council, which is the single industry body for UK betting and gaming, were contacted but did not reply.
In February 2021, they stated that “the BGC’s work over the past 12 months on promoting safer gambling is having an impact” as the rate of problem gambling in 2020 dropped from 0.6% to 0.3%.
For Zarb-Cousin, his hope is for a more positive future for gamblers requiring support.
“I hope we [the gambling industry] can get the change that we desperately need.”