Online poker play is booming
With casinos and clubs in Australia shut amid the coronavirus pandemic, gamblers have flocked to online casinos.
Experts say billions of Aussie dollars are lining the pockets of illegal online gam operators.
“I average $3000-$4000 a week,” said Daniel, from Sydney, who runs unregulated gambling tournaments online.
He says that he makes six figures “easy” from the illegal practice – and that was before the coronavirus crisis.
Since pubs and clubs closed their doors due to lockdown regulations, Australians have saved $1.5 billion not using poker machines, according to the Alliance for Gambling Reform.
However, this doesn’t take into account online gambling.
Online casinos search spike
Recent data from Google Trends shows searches for “online casinos Australia” and “online poker” have quadrupled since the pandemic was declared.
The biggest spike was recorded on March 22, the same day thousands of clubs and gaming facilities were forced to close their doors in response to the government’s stage one lockdown.
Sitting behind his computer screen, profiteer Daniel has noticed more gamblers coming to his website than ever before.
“The raw amount of people playing online poker has at least doubled, maybe tripled,” he said.
“Because of Covid-19, they’ve been forced to find these online options. Now that the casino is closed, the market kind of shifted from live to online.”
Even though he had to cancel a holiday, Covid-19 has had a silver lining for Daniel and others like him.
“Mainstream, regulated online poker sites actually became illegal in 2017,” he said.
“So, people wanting to play online have to go through unregulated/player run sites.”
“It’s helped me economically, running the tournaments.”
Poker pro says there are pros and cons to online poker
Malcolm Trayner used to go to casinos all the time but he’s turned entirely to virtual poker since Covid-19 started.
Like Daniel, he’s also observed a staggering amount of online poker players.
“For people running these sites, their income is going to rapidly increase.
“More people are playing online poker and that increases the prize pool and potential money,” he said.
“It means that when you do win, you win a lot.”
But more players also means more chance of losing.
Indeed, Mr Trayner hasn’t made any money in the past few weeks, having been on a losing streak.
“It’s a little bit hard because I’ve been on a bad run for the last month,” he said.
As a pro poker player, Mr Trayner remains optimistic and says he’s just having a “short-term downswing”.
“This massive increase of players in the field has increased the variance so pro tournament players have to be wary of a short term downswing,” he said.
However, he believes in the long term, gambling professionals have a good chance to turn a profit.
“More players means the online poker pool is generally softer, and more profitable for the pro players,” he said.
“All these people are doing it recreationally and they don’t play poker full-time.
“So many pro players I know have made $80-100,000 in the last month.
“For the vast majority of poker pros, the pandemic has been a good thing,” he said.
Manager of the Australian Gambling Research Centre, Dr Rebecca Jenkinson, said Australians are the biggest per capita gamblers in the world.
“And a lot of that money will be going to unlicensed providers, especially now,” she said.
“Around the world, these offshore operators pop up in all different places.”
While there are a lot of profiteers inside Australia like Daniel, there’s a lot more outside the country who are scraping in the big bucks.
“Certainly a lot of activity is outside of Australia,” Dr Jenkinson said.
“These people are very much looking to attract the Australian market. Some of the websites have kangaroos or emus on them so they look regulated.”