Study: Swedish high-risk players gambling more amid Covid-19

15 June 2020

More gamblers in Sweden have decreased play than increased during the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, but more than a quarter of high risk customers are playing more according to a Lund University study.

Anders C. Håkansson, professor of psychiatry at Lund University, led the study, which saw 2,016 Swedish people surveyed between 28 April and 4 May. Of this number, 1,246 said they had gambled in some form during the past 12 months.

The survey asked respondents questions about changes in their behaviour since the Covid-19 pandemic began, as well as about their pre-pandemic gambling habits.

It found that 5.9% of gamblers said they gambled more since the virus hit, compared with 11.6% who said they gambled less. Players who said they played online poker were the most likely to bet more, followed by those who played online bingo, and then those who played online casino.

Those who gambled at bricks and mortar casinso, played land-based slots, and those who bet on sports, were the least likely to have increased play since the pandemic began.

Across every vertical, the study found that players were more likely to gamble less. The gap between increased and decreased play was narrowest for horse racing, but highest for sports betting, suggesting customers abstained rather than shifted to other products. 

Young people were most likely to gamble more, with 17.7% of 18 to 24 year olds, and 13.0% of 25 to 29 year olds, reporting doing so. Meanwhile, 7.5% of those in the 30 to 39 age group; 4.6% of those aged 40 to 49; and 2.5% of those aged between 50 and 59 gambled more, along with 4.1% of those aged 60 or above.

The study also asked respondents questions from the nine-item Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) to assess whether they were at risk of developing gambling problems.

The PGSI asks questions about the past 12-month period, with options including “never”, “sometimes”, “most of the time”, and “almost always”. These categories are given a numerical score from zero to three with risk level based on the total score.

Among gamblers who scored a zero and were thus classified as “no risk”, who made up 79% of all gamblers in the sample, just 1.8% reported gambling more under lockdown. For those classified as “low risk”, scoring one to three and making up 10% of gamblers, 12.4% said they gambled more.

Among “moderate risk” gamblers, scoring three to seven on the PGSI and making up 5% of the sample, 21.1% said they gambled more.

Of those in the “high risk” category, who scored an eight or above, 27.4% said they gambled more. Among those who said they had self-excluded from gambling at some point in the past year, 32.8% reported gambling more.

Håkansson concluded that lower risk customers found it easier to limit or cease gambling during the crisis, meaning that increased play was concentrated around the higher-risk groups.

However, the study went on to suggest little correllation between increased gambling as a way to ease financial pressure, with no evidence of income affecting levels of play. 

Those most likely to gamble more were those making SEK45,000 to SEK50,000 ((£3,828/€4,270/$4,811 to £4,256/€4,746/$5,347) per month at 10.0%, but the next most likely were those making SEK10,000 to SEK15,000 per month, at 9.2%.

Breakdowns of those who gambled less by age, income or problem gambling severity level were not provided.

The 389 respondents who said they were sports bettors were also asked about their activity after almost all major sports across the globe were suspended.

Of this number, 59.6% said they gambled less. Meanwhile, 7.2% said they gambled more on other sports that were still taking place; 20.1% said they gambled more on horse racing; 11.3% said they gambled more on casino games, and 16.7% said they gambled more on other games.

However, Håkansson said that again those who gambled more “had a clear picture of problematic gambling involvement”.

Earlier this month, the first empirical study examining player behaviour before and after countries locked down found casino activity among sports bettors declined since 7 March.

The report, based on player data from a “large European online gambling operator” with players based in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Germany, found that many sports bettors with the operator were already casino players. In the absence of sports, these players reduced - rather than increased - casino spend.

The survey comes as Sweden prepares to implement a number of temporary restrictions for the country’s regulated online casino market. As of 2 July, consumers will face a mandatory weekly deposit cap of SEK5,000, while licensees will only be able to offer bonuses up to SEK100.

The limits have proved very unpopular with industry stakeholders. Online gambling trade association Branschföreningen för Onlinespel (BOS) said the move was likely to help the unlicensed gambling market and launched a petition against the measure, signed by chief executives of operators including Betsson, Kindred Group, LeoVegas, NetEnt and William Hill.

Last week, chief executives from nine major Sweden-facing operators and suppliers put forward a series of alternative player protection measures that they said would be more effective than the stake limit.

Social security minister Ardalan Shekarabi had previously stated that the restrictions would also cover sports betting and horse racing, but these were later made exempt in response to criticism.

Sweden’s gambling regulator Spelinspektionen has also criticised the plans, and last week warned that amendments to the rules may make them even more difficult to implement by 2 July.