Gambling counselling services are concerned about the impact of online betting in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions closing pokie rooms at pubs and clubs.

An AlphaBeta study revealed online betting increased 67 per cent during the first week of clubs and casinos being closed due to the virus lockdown.

Addiction counsellor Geoff Lyons said he was worried about the trend and the influx of new clients who do not fit the traditional cohort of problem gamblers.

“The lockdown is a recipe for disaster if you’re vulnerable,” he said.

“A substantial number of new and old clients have been ringing up asking for advice or informing me that they have relapsed with gambling due to being isolated.

“I have a number of clients who were more social gamblers in the past, but with working at home, stress and being online as a way to stay connected, there has been a significant change in their behaviour with participating in online gambling.”

Despite the continuation of horse and greyhound racing across Australia, punters have turned to online casinos and games that mimic poker machines.

Monash University associate professor Charles Livingstone said safeguards that would usually protect punters from using poker machines at the club or casino do not exist online.

“There are no real limits to online gambling and you can use credit cards to top up online gambling accounts, which you can’t use in pubs or clubs,” Professor Livingstone told SBS News.

“There is a difficulty for some people who are going to be tempted to shift their gambling expenditure online and for these people there could be quite serious consequences.”

Dr Lyons attributed the shift to online casinos and games to nostalgia, but warned higher betting stakes can result produce multiple issues.

“A common thread I have discovered amongst my clients is that they miss the sound of winning a feature,” he said.

“It’s not surprising because poker machines can tap straight into the pleasure gene of your brain, especially if you frequently gamble.

“Although regulations need to be enforced because gamblers can easily get carried away which can cause significant financial hardship and unfortunately lead to violence or substance abuse.”

For free 24-hour help, readers can contact the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858.