The UK has one of the strongest betting markets around the world, with British consumers spending £14.5bn each year on lottery tickets, betting slips, and at virtual and real-world casinos. However, as the NHS opens up its first betting clinic outside of London, the question is ‘how much is too much?’
In the most recent figures published by the Gambling Commission, the UK betting industry regulator, the online betting sector makes up nearly 40 percent of the total spent on betting in the UK (£5.6bn). Betting shops (£3.2bn) and the National Lottery (£3bn) make up around 20 percent each, and the rest from a variety of gaming machines, casinos, bingo, and more.
Whilst many people do not consider the National Lottery to be betting in the traditional sense, with its extremely long odds (winning the Euromillions has odds of 139,838,160 to 1) and support of good causes, it is betting under the law and is included in the UK’s broader betting statistics.
Those aged 25 to 34 are the most likely demographic to gamble, with 40 percent of people in this age group reporting to have gambled within the last month. Men are also more likely to gamble than women, with 37 percent of men and 28 percent of women saying that they gambled in the years to December 2018 with both sexes playing the majority of games at home on their smartphone or laptop.
In fact, the general betting market in the UK dipped by 0.3 percent last year, with the number betting shops, licensed arcades, and bingo premises all falling in the year to September 2018. However, their decline was nearly cancelled out by the steady growth of the online (remote) sector, which already makes up the largest section of the market and grew by 2.9 percent thanks in part to major advertising campaigns and a number of popular brands such as broadcaster Sky and their SkyVegas portal.
Whilst the rapid growth of the UK’s betting industry since the relaxation of regulations in the Betting Act 2005 has been good for many businesses, it has coincided with a growth in problem betting. Recent statistics show the number of problem gamblers in the UK at over 400,000, and both the industry and the government have started to act to address the issues.
Earlier this year the government cut the maximum stake from £100 down to £2 on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). The legislation was unpopular with the industry, with William Hill saying it would cost the firm £100m per year in sales and would result in the closure of 700 of their high street shops, but should have a dramatic impact in slowing the rate of loss for some gamblers addicted to the machines.
Meanwhile, a number of UK-based online betting firms have taken action to support GamBlock, which lets people register and setup blocks on access to betting websites and apps in order to make it much more difficult for those with a problem to place their bets. The industry is also aware of the extra monitoring they need to impose to minimise the risk. The Remote Betting Association, which represents online firms, told the Guardian: “Compared to areas like lotteries and bingo, online betting is usually classified as ‘harder betting’ and is always likely to attract a higher proportion of problem and at-risk gamblers and this study reflects that.
“The relatively high levels of regulation for online betting reflect that as well, but it’s something we have to accept responsibility for and proactively seek ways to minimise those risks for all consumers.”