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Abstract

Background

Whilst some research has explored the impact of COVID-19 on gambling behaviour, little is yet known about online search behaviours for gambling during this period. The current study explored gambling-related online searches before, during and after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. We also assessed whether search trends were related to Gambling Commission behavioural data over the same period.

Methods

Google Trends™ search data, covering thirty months from January 2020 to June 2022, for five gambling activities and five gambling operators were downloaded. Graphical displays of the weekly relative search values over this period were then produced to visualise trends in search terms, with key dates in COVID-19 policy and sporting events highlighted. Cross-correlations between seasonally adjusted monthly search data and behavioural indices were conducted.

Results

Sharp increases in internet searches for poker, slots, and bingo were evident during the first lockdown in the UK, with operator searches sharply decreasing over this period. No changes in gambling activity searches were highlighted during subsequent lockdowns, although small increases in operator-based searches were detected. Strong positive correlations were found between search data and industry data for sports betting and poker but not for slots.

Conclusions

Google Trends™ data may act as an indicator of population-level gambling behaviour. Substitution of preferred gambling activities for others may have occurred during the first lockdown when opportunities for sports betting were limited. Further research is needed to assess the effectiveness of internet search data in predicting gambling-related harm.

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