COVID-19 restrictions and lockdown measures led to a drop of more than 2 million people taking part in gambling activities, new research has found.
A report published by the Australian National University has revealed 2.6 million fewer people gambled during the 12 months to May 2020 if 2019 gambling levels had continued throughout the pandemic.
As a result of COVID-19, there were 1.6 million fewer adults who played the pokies, 1.7 million fewer playing lottery games, while there was a drop of 2.7 million people who purchased raffle tickets.
The report found gambling rates dropped from the pre-pandemic rate of almost 66 per cent of the population to 53 per cent in the immediate aftermath of the virus shutting down large parts of society.
While gambling rates have increased since restrictions have eased, rates in November have reached 58.7 per cent, still below the period in the 12 months to April 2019.
The report's lead researcher Professor Nicholas Biddle said gambling forms unaffected by virus restrictions did not get an uptick in users, despite the closure of gaming venues and a disruption to live sport.
"At first we weren't sure whether the declines in gambling venues would lead to increases in online gambling, but there wasn't that kind of substitution," Professor Biddle said.
"There were a couple of sports which for the most part continued, such as horse racing, which had far less of a break than spectator sports."
All categories of gambling experienced a decline in use in the early stages of the pandemic.
However, online gambling such as casino games recorded the smallest reduction in use.
While men and women recorded similar rates of declines in gambling, those aged between 35 to 44-years-old were the most likely to stop gambling during lockdown, down from 71 per cent to almost 49 per cent.
Gambling rates are now almost back to normal for those aged between 18 and 24 along with those over 75.
Professor Biddle said rates of gambling dropped, regardless of how often someone would take part in it.
"There was not only a decline in low-risk gambling but there was also a decline in high-risk gambling," he said.
"The highest rate of decline in high-risk gambling was among those in relatively advantaged areas."
The report found those with the highest rate of disadvantage in the community had the largest decrease in gambling rates when compared with other socioeconomic groups.
With COVID-19 altering the way people gambled their money, Professor Biddle said it would still be some time before it was known whether gambling rates would return to their pre-pandemic levels.
"With the data, it appears that new gambling habits are being formed and there is the potential for those new habits to stick," he said.
"It's likely during the pandemic there were many people who stopped gambling while for others they just started.
"From a policy perspective, there might be new people who aren't necessarily familiar with gambling support services, which might need to be targeted post-COVID."