Bookmakers count the cost of lockdown as sports betting resumes

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the betting industry particularly hard. While it has developed a sophisticated online presence, including websites and apps, the lack of sporting events has put a large dent in bookmaker’s profits. The European Gaming and Betting Association estimates that its members make around 40% of their gaming revenues from sports wagers. This amounts to around €2.4bn.

Gambling revenues have been down as much as 60% since lockdown began in early March. Football, Europe’s biggest market for sports betting, saw seasons postponed around the continent as well as the summer’s European Championship delayed until 2021. Racing comes in at a very close second, and meets were also delayed.

But both have now resumed, though there are still no crowds at either. Betting first could only be done online in the UK, with non-essential high street shops closed. Betting shops were allowed to open again on 15 June, though with some very noticeable restrictions in place. Scottish bookmakers were only allowed to resume operations though from 30 June.

Many managers and staff had been working for two weeks before the lockdown was eased to make sure their locations were safe to accept punters. Scottish locations have more restrictions than others in the UK and are not allowed to operate betting machines, such as the popular fixed odds betting terminals, and live screening of horse races is also banned.

Social Distancing

Social distancing means that shops across the UK will be operating a one in, one out policy. The total amount of customers allowed in a shop at once will depend its size. Customers will have to queue and are encouraged to know ahead of time what bets they would like to place.

Additional measures include placing sneeze screens at counters, to limit contact between staff and customers. Dividers have been placed in between terminals, helping maximise social distancing. Touch screen pens have been provided by some firms, such as Ladbrokes and Coral, so that potential transmission of the virus through people using their fingers is limited. William Hill has stopped giving out pens, with people having to request them. Other firms are not reusing pens. Hand sanitiser will be free to use at every betting shop. Customers will be encouraged to use this when they enter a shop, once they are finished using terminals and before they leave. There are currently no standard rules on the wearing of masks, though they are mandatory on some forms of public transport.

Coronavirus may prompt more punters to move to online betting. Before the pandemic, around 12% of bets were placed online. Analysts expect that to jump to 18% after the lockdown ends. Gambling firms did see a drop in sports betting activity, though many saw a rise in the use of online slots and other games.

The resumption of elite sports will be a boost to the 7,315 gambling shops around the UK, but bookmakers are keen not to be seen to exploit the large numbers of people stuck at home looking for entertainment. Radio and TV ad campaigns have been paused. Regular customers have returned to betting shops though, and many firms, including William Hill, have reported that trade has been brisk since they were able to reopen physical locations