The coronavirus crisis has had a significant and long-lasting impact on all aspects of the UK economy. All industries, from retail and hospitality to education and entertainment, are having to make big changes and adapt during these difficult times, and the gambling industry is no exception.
Social distancing measures were put in place in the UK in March, which included encouraging the public to stay home and the closure of all non essential retail outlets. As a result, all high street betting shops, bingo halls and land based casinos were also forced to shut their doors. Following this closure the UKGC recently released new guidelines for gambling operators.
One ruling that has been included is a ban on reverse withdrawals. These withdrawals allow online gamblers to change their mind once they have requested to remove their funds from their online account and gives them the ability to continue using this money. It seen as a problem as it encourages harmful gambling behaviours such as spending more than intended and not taking a break between gaming sessions.
These guidelines focus on preventing more people from developing harmful gambling behaviours and well as protecting those who already have a gambling problem. Operators are being told that they must not offer bonuses, promotions and other playing incentives to players who may be showing harmful gambling behaviours. This includes being able to spot and interact with players who engage in sessions lasting more than one hour.
These changes come at a time when activities that usually generate up to 50% of the industry’s revenue have been put on hold and industry leaders have been taking steps to adapt and respond to changes in consumer demand.
Changes to types of gambling participation
The biggest change in gambling participation has been seen in the sports betting sector. Sports betting has come to a complete standstill at the coronavirus crisis has meant that almost all sporting events in the UK and around the world have been either cancelled or postponed.
When compared to betting numbers for the same time in March last year, the Gambling Commission found that the number of event bets had decreased by at least 31%. This figure would have been considerably lower had the Cheltenham Festival not taken place in March. The festival is one of the world’s most popular horse racing events and took place just before the UK lockdown measures were implemented. Each year the number of bets being made surges dramatically around the time of this event.
Even when these lockdown measures are relaxed, it is expected that large scale sporting and entertainment events will be one of the last things to return to normal. This is due to the amount of people attending and standing in close proximity to one another, with fears being that these events could cause a second spike in the spread of the virus.
However, sporting events in some European countries have already begun to start up again, with one example being the German football league – the Bundesliga. Although fans were not allowed to attend stadiums, they were still able to watch from home. Holding events behind closed doors is an option that the UK sporting industry is now exploring, meaning that event betting may soon be able to restart.
While land based gambling figures have plummeted, the number of people playing in online casinos has increased in recent weeks. This is most apparent for already engaged gamblers, with reports showing that 64% have increased either the amount they spend or the time spent on online casinos during the crisis.
Research has also indicated that at least 41% of those who previously visited high street betting shops or other land based gambling venues have opened up a new account on an online casino during lockdown. With social distancing expected to be in place for some time, we can expect these trends to continue as more people enjoy online gambling to keep them entertained while stuck at home.
Gambling operators have taken voluntary measures to protect vulnerable people
Gambling operators have been quick to respond to the new guidelines and have recognised the gambling behaviours have changed during the UK lockdown. A number of the largest companies have stated that they will remove all of their advertising from television and radio while the lockdown is in place. Where possible, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has stated that these advertising slots will be filled with messages that encourage responsible gambling behaviours.
Lottery giant Camelot has also redirected some of its charitable funds to help the UK manage and recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The company contributes around £30 million to good causes in the UK each week, with much of this now going towards issues related to the crisis.
What is the outlook for gambling operators?
The outlook for gambling operators post lockdown is difficult to predict. Current figures show that UK players have continued to gamble online, and with social distancing being part of the country’s new normal, we can expect that online growth trends will continue. As the economy begins to open up again, forms of gambling such as events betting will begin to recover but will not reach pre-coronavirus levels for some time to come.