Coronavirus: Online gambling booms, Australians pay billions to illegal offshore websites

Las Vegas has shut down all its casinos and its iconic strip is like a ghost town.Source:AP
Las Vegas has shut down all its casinos and its iconic strip is like a ghost town.Source:AP
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Virus lockdown has sparked a rise in online gambling, and there are fears billions of Aussie dollars are going to illegal, offshore player-run sites.

Australia’s online gambling scene has reached new heights since casinos closed in late March, and experts fear billions of Aussie dollars are lining the pockets of illegal online game operators.

“I average $3000-$4000 a week,” said Daniel*, from Sydney, who runs unregulated gambling tournaments online.

He told news.com.au he makes six figures “easy” from the illegal practice — and that was before the COVID-19 crisis.

Since pubs and clubs closed their doors from 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, which has spiked massively in the last month.

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 that thousands of clubs and gaming facilities were forced to close their doors in response to the Federal 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 most definitely 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, like mine.

“It’s helped me economically, running the tournaments.”

A general view is seen of Crown Casino in Melbourne, Thursday, April 16, 2020. Crown Resorts has stood down 95 per cent of its workforce – more than 11,500 staff – after coronavirus restrictions affected its casinos in Melbourne and Perth. Michael Dodge/AAP

A general view is seen of Crown Casino in Melbourne, Thursday, April 16, 2020. Crown Resorts has stood down 95 per cent of its workforce – more than 11,500 staff – after coronavirus restrictions affected its casinos in Melbourne and Perth. Michael Dodge/AAPSource:AAP

MEET THE ONLINE GAMBLERS

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.

“Suddenly when COVID-19 hit it was next level,” he said.

“For people running these sites, their income is going to rapidly increase.

“More people (playing online poker) increases the prize pool, increases the potential money,” he said. “Which means when you do win, you win a lot.”

But with more players comes 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.

Malcolm Trayner is playing in a live tournament in this photo from 2018. However, he has had to turn entirely to online gambling amid coronavirus lockdowns.

Malcolm Trayner is playing in a live tournament in this photo from 2018. However, he has had to turn entirely to online gambling amid coronavirus lockdowns.Source:Supplied

PRO GAMBLERS ARE ALSO PROFITING (MOSTLY)

As a pro poker player, Mr Trayner remains optimistic and believes 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 $80-100k+ just in the last month.

“For the vast majority of poker pros, it (the COVID-19 pandemic) has been a good thing.”

Mr Trayner pointed news.com.au towards a graph of one of his poker pro friends, who has been raking in cash since COVID-19 started.

Mr Trayner pointed news.com.au towards a graph of one of his poker pro friends, who has been raking in cash since COVID-19 started.

Last year, news.com.au reported on Mr Trayner’s staggering winnings as a result of his pro player lifestyle, which paid for his rent months at a time.

Mr Trayner expects to be making similar profits soon in this COVID-19 “open season”.

THE EXPERT SPEAKS OUT

Dr Rebecca Jenkinson, manager of the Australian Gambling Research Centre, 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 told news.com.au.

“Around the world, these offshore operators pop up in all different places.”

While there are a lot of profiteers inside Australia like Daniel, there are a lot more outside the country who are scraping in the big bucks.

“Certainly a lot of activity 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.”

Las Vegas has shut down all its casinos and its iconic strip is like a ghost town.

Las Vegas has shut down all its casinos and its iconic strip is like a ghost town.Source:AP

London police wait outside a casino ensuring it stays closed during the lockdown.

London police wait outside a casino ensuring it stays closed during the lockdown.Source:AP

Dr Jenkinson said it’s not just poker that has her worried about Aussie dollars going down the drain — it’s all kinds of gambling, including sports wages and online poker machines.

“These websites want to look like they’re legal, just by the images they use or the name of the site.

“So as a result, a lot of people might be unaware they’re using an unregulated site.”

Although all online poker sites are unregulated, she encouraged people to use government regulated sites for other types of gambling.

“There’s a list of providers that people can look into if they want to gamble,” she said.

“ACRA has a list of a number of licensed operators.”

Dr Jenkinson said it was a possibility that the entire $1.5 million saved by the closure of casinos could have since been spent on online gambling. There’s no way to be sure because not all of it is reported.

However, she said this staggering loss of money was a small possibility, adding: “I don’t imagine it would get up to that level,” she said.

“And most of that money will be going to licensed providers like sports anyway.”

Poker machines might not be accessible, but that hasn’t stopped people going online.

Poker machines might not be accessible, but that hasn’t stopped people going online.Source:News Corp Australia

Online poker site runner Daniel is confident that his income will stay much the same even after the pandemic passes.

“I think that online poker will (stay) at a high level for a long time even after COVID-19 dies,” he said.

“Once people are introduced to the online scene they’ll see that it’s more convenient.

“You can get gambling apps on your phone and stuff like that. People will keep playing.”

Dr Jenkinson agrees. However, unlike Daniel, she doesn’t view it as a good thing.

These high levels of online gambling “might be sustained after we return to normal,” she said.

“I certainly think people who’ve set up an account will keep that account.”

If the government acts fast, they might be able to tamp down Australian gambling habits, according to Dr Jenkinson.

“I would really like to use this opportunity to work as a community and reduce levels of gambling and gambling-related harm,” she said.

If this article has brought up any issues for you, please don’t hesitate to contact Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 or visit the website.

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