With NSW poised to reopen some pub and club facilities from June 1, it is likely at least some poker machines will be back in action too.
But gambling counsellors warn that being particularly keen to get back into playing the pokies could be an indication of a gambling problem.
Julie McDermott, from Wagga Family Support's gambling help team, said for people whose main form of gambling was poker machines, the reopening of venues was going to be a challenge.
"If people are really eager to get back to the pub or club and play the poker machines, that in itself could be an alarm that it has become more than just a paid form of entertainment, that the poker machines are being used for other reasons," Ms McDermott said.
However, Ms McDermott said that the coronavirus lockdown and closure of pubs and clubs had not brought a halt to gambling, with many people instead heading online.
"I think the misconception is that because all of the venues have closed, everyone has stopped gambling. But that hasn't been the case. Online gambling is increasing significantly," she said.
Ms McDermott said there were concerns arising from online gambling, the first being that transactions were not made using physical cash.
"Two, it's so easy to spend way more than you ever planned. 'Just transfer this amount and have one last bet'. It doesn't feel like real cash," she said.
"Also, a lot of online accounts can be overseas, so they're not regulated the same way as other gambling facilities are in Australia.
"There's also the conversion of currency as well. If you're betting on a site overseas, you might think you're betting in Australian dollars but you're not and because of the conversation rate, you could be betting quite a bit more."
Ms McDermott said despite the social isolation restrictions, people were continuing to reach out for help from Wagga Family Support, using a blend of online or phone counselling and some face-to-face sessions.
"Anyone at all who might have concerns about their own gambling, or are affected by anyone else's gambling, can call the Wagga Family Support Services gambling help team on 6921 7544. It's a free service."
Ms McDermott said counsellors could offer a range of supports for helping people with their recovery.
"We want people to realise that in their recovery, the steps that you take are always going to be yours. You won't be forced to do anything that you don't want to or you don't feel ready to," she said.
According to the NSW Office of Responsible Gambling, since the temporary closure of licensed venues and the suspension of many sports competitions, the ways in which people can gamble have changed.
"Evidence of the impact of these changes is currently limited. There is some evidence that some people may be spending more on online gambling, while others may be gambling less," a spokesperson said.
"The office is not aware of any evidence to date of an increase in problem gambling during the pandemic, and there has not been an increase in people seeking support from gambling help services."
The Office of Responsible Gambling advises the community to stay safe online by doing the following:
- Check whether gambling websites are legal in Australia before using them
- Control how much you spend by setting limits on how much you can deposit into your account, and how much you can bet.
- Opt out of receiving marketing emails and messages to avoid the potential for impulse decisions or unplanned bets.
- Read the terms and conditions of your bet, and be careful of betting on novelties such as the weather.
- Deactivate your account and have a break if you feel your gambling is increasing.
Gambling Help NSW provides free, confidential support for anyone experiencing problems with gambling, including support for family members and friends. Telephone support and online treatment and support services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1800 858 858 or gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au.