How Covid-19 has affected gambling in the UK

On 20 March, lockdown shuttered all gambling shops across Great Britain. This had an immediate effect on the landscape of British sports betting as well as gaming. Though the full impact could not have been known. Would people switch to online betting? Would the pausing of nearly all sports tournaments mean people gambled less? The full effects are not yet known, but the Gambling Commission has recently published a report looking at the short-term impact of lockdown and Covid-19.

One key finding included in the report is data from Savanta, a London-based data, research and advisory firm, that noted 40% of British people had seen their disposable income fall. This impacts the entire country, not just the gambling sector, but is an important factor to keep in mind when looking at the rest of the report’s results. Here are the key findings.

The most interesting discovery was that Covid-19 and the lockdown had affected gambling… not a lot. As could be expected, with major sports tournaments or events paused or cancelled, the number of people gambling fell. But, considering all betting shops were closed, it wasn’t by much. Active player accounts fell 1.2%, according to data provided by the operators themselves. Only 0.4%of adults had newly started gambling in the past four weeks according to a YouGov survey run at the end of May. That compares to 2.1% of adults who had previously gambled but had stopped over the same period.

That was in-line with trends earlier in the lockdown, with around a third (28%-32%) of British adults participating in some sort of gambling or betting from April to June, the height of lockdown.

The hardest hit part of the gambling sector was sports betting. In May there was a 1% participation rate in betting on sports. That rose to 5% by mid-June. The return of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga certainly helped boost this figure. On the other side of the coin, betting on virtual sports events, such as the Virtual Grand National, a simulation of the race broadcast by ITV on 4 April at the same time the race should have taken place, rose to 3% early in lockdown before falling down to 1% in the past month.

The main impact of Covid-19 was established punters trying new types of gambling. The number of people participating in sports betting fell 55% in April, the first full month of gambling, while those playing poker rose 53% while those betting on virtual events went up 44%. That trend reversed, with people returning to sports betting, when it was more available due to matches resuming in May and June.

The boredom of lockdown may have driven 27% of people to either increase the amount of time or money (or both) they spent on gambling, but the vast majority, 73%, continued at their usual rate.

Making sense of this data will preoccupy betting firms for the next few months. But it looks as if people will return to their usual habits after lockdown, only adjusting them for that exceptional period.