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Proportion of non-gamblers rises in B.C. as pandemic changes industry's odds: poll

For the past few months, British Columbians have cursed their luck at various times and for different reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic continues, and we are now in a period of semi-lockdown after an increase in the number of positive tests.
Michael Blann/Getty

For the past few months, British Columbians have cursed their luck at various times and for different reasons.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues, and we are now in a period of semi-lockdown after an increase in the number of positive tests. Maybe the candidate you voted for in the provincial election failed to earn a seat in the Legislative Assembly. Perhaps you are disappointed with the absence, or performance, of your favourite sports team.

Last year, Research Co. and Glacier Media studied the behaviour of British Columbians on issues related to gambling. Our follow-up in 2020 shows that lottery ticket buyers appear to have become more genuine about their chances of winning, and that the pandemic has had an effect on other gambling activities that require a personal presence.

The proportion of British Columbians who did not partake in a single gambling activity last year stands at 25%, up three points since 2019. The number of residents who bought a lottery ticket over the past year held steady at 58%. Three in four residents aged 55 and over (76%) participated in what continues to be the most popular form of gambling in the province, along with 58% of those aged 35 to 54 and 35% of those aged 18 to 34.

It appears that reality has set in for some lottery ticket buyers, with 51% saying that they do not expect to win any prize – up from 41% last year. More than half of those who purchased a lottery ticket in British Columbia did so for fun, with no unyielding desire for earnings.

This still leaves three in 10 lotto players (31%) who believe they will win a small prize, including 37% of women and 46% of those in the Fraser Valley. In addition, almost one in five (18%) expect to win a big prize – a proportion that jumps to 27% in northern B.C. and 20% among those aged 35 to 54.

Lottery ticket buyers who voted for the BC Greens in last month’s provincial election are more sensible about their own odds of striking it big (just 13%) than those who voted for the BC New Democratic Party (NDP) (17%) or the BC Liberals (21%).

The second most popular game in the province is “Scratch & Win,” with 45% of British Columbians buying one of these tickets over the past 12 months. Residents of Vancouver Island are the biggest fans of this form of gambling (54%), while Metro Vancouverites are the least likely to participate (43%).

Casinos have been closed for most of 2020 due to the pandemic, but they have been in the news recently on account of the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering. While more than a third of British Columbians (36%) attended a casino when we asked in 2019, the proportion has dropped to 20% in 2020.

The perceptions of British Columbians on the existence of casinos may be going through a shift, with 56% saying they bring tourism dollars and create jobs (down five points since 2019), and 31% considering that they increase gambling addiction and lead to more crime and traffic (up four points).

We could assume that the temporary closure of casinos would lead players to seek other ways to gamble, but the fluctuation is not particularly noteworthy on other activities. Visits to, for instance, are up from 19% in 2019 to 22% in 2020. Men are significantly more likely to be relying on this online platform (27%) than women (18%).

When it comes to other opportunities to gamble, the numbers are lower than what we found last year. Online poker or card players fell from 12% to 9% in British Columbia, although these games are more attractive for British Columbians aged 18 to 34 (14%).

Back in September, when we studied the effect of the pandemic on professional sports in North America, we discovered a slight drop in the number of participants in pools or fantasy leagues in Canada and the United States. The behaviour in British Columbia is similar: only 8% of the province’s residents bet on a sporting event with a friend or relative over the past 12 months (down two points since 2019), just 7% wagered on a sporting event through SportsAction (also down two points) and 4% gambled on a horse race (down one point).

Finally, there is some consistency on the sociological aspects we track every year. More than four in five British Columbians (86%, down two points since 2019) think people would continue to gamble even if it were made illegal. Most (71%, up four points) think it is the right of the individual to gamble, regardless of the consequences. And almost two thirds (64%, down three points) think the government should do more to deal with the negative effects of gambling.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.


Results are based on an online study conducted from October 29 to October 31, 2020, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.