Web searches for online casinos spike

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
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Traffic to illegal online casinos has surged in Australia amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of web searches within Australia for “online pokies” jumped from 12,100 in February to 40,500 in April, as the pandemic forced pubs, clubs and legal casinos to close their doors.

Yogonet reports that exclusive online traffic data provided by analytics firm SEMrush shows that despite the government regulators taking a hard line against unlicensed offshore gambling websites, web searches and traffic to illegal online casinos boomed during the depths of Australia’s coronavirus lockdown.

Traffic from Australia to one of the most popular and widely promoted online casinos, Wild Card City, almost doubled from 606,407 visits in February to 1.2 million visitors in April, the data shows.

Search requests for the term “online casino Australia real money” jumped almost 540 per cent, while searches for “Australia online casino reviews” grew ten-fold.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has ordered internet service providers to block 52 illegal online casino websites since it gained power to do so in November and warned that the websites frequently defraud users while offering few, if any, harm minimisation measures.

As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald an ACMA spokesman said the regulator was aware of illegal sites targeting Australians and would continue to block them.

This was in conjunction with a public education campaign warning users of the risk that they’ll never get back the money they deposit.

$100m tax revenue lost to states

Industry statistics showed that the amount Australians gambled on offshore sites had been falling before COVID-19, the spokesman said.

The federal government estimated Australians lost up to $400 million per year on illegal gambling sites, depriving states of around $100 million in tax revenue, had the most been lost with legal on-shore operators.

Australians lost $25 billion in 2018 with just over half of that on poker machines.

A gambling researcher at Central Queensland University, Alex Russell, said he expected a spike in online gambling as poker machine venues shut, with online casino games more attractive than sports betting or lotteries to gamblers who were used to high-speed slot games.

“Gambling is an addiction…so having that taken away from you overnight is a big deal, so they’re going to look for something else,” he said.

Dr Russell said the more reputable casino websites appeared to be playing by the rules and blocking Australians.

Monash University gambling and public health expert Charles Livingstone said trying to shut down illegal gaming websites was like playing “whack-a-mole” as new websites sprang up whenever one was blocked.

Professor Livingstone also expected increased spending on online gambling during the COVID-19 lockdown but said his own yet-to-be-published research did not suggest that illegal casino sites were the main driver.

It is not illegal to play online casino games in Australia, but it is illegal for websites to provide that service.

Some countries, including New Zealand, license and regulate online casino gambling.

Research by the Australian Institute of Criminology shows that the total number of people gambling online declined in March and April, but those who were gambling spent more.

The survey of 1000 people found 33 per cent said they had gambled more online in April compared to the start of the year.

One in five said they were playing online casino games, card games and pokies more often in April than at the start of the year.

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