Gambling Commission reveals Covid-effect on the gambling and betting industry
Covid-19 transformed daily life: from lockdowns to restrictions, activities taken for granted in 2019 changed overnight. Online retailers and services benefited as people turned to the internet. But has online betting seen a big change?
Gambling and betting suffered a double whammy. Bookmakers saw their shops closed and the events they took bets on were mostly cancelled. The Premier League suspended its season between March and June 2020, for example, immediately removing by far the largest source of bets in the UK.
How was gambling affected?
Data released by the Gambling Commission, covering the period to May 2021, suggests that, although bookmakers have taken a hit, the industry has been remarkably robust. The data covers the biggest online operators, representing about 80% of the market, and shows some interesting pandemic effects.
The impact of live sport cancellations
The cancellation or postponement of major sporting events had an immediate impact on the betting industry. In March 2020, when sports were stopping, the gross gambling yield (GGY) on event betting was nearly £161 million. In April, this plummeted to £62 million. Interestingly, these bets did not seem to go elsewhere. The 20% drop in total GGY suggests that most of the £99 million fall stayed in punters’ pockets.
However, the resumption of most sports — especially the Premier League — in June, saw it bounce right back to £217 million. And while there have been ups and downs since, the recovery has been healthy; the average monthly GGY has risen from £108 million in the first lockdown to £241 million in the period to May 2021.
Online poker had a lockdown bounce
Online poker became popular during the first lockdown, but the interest was short-lived.
The number of active users and GGY both went up in the first lockdown, peaking in April 2020, when 626 thousand active online poker players generated a GGY of £20 million. But as lockdown lifted in June, the new poker players simply disappeared.
They didn’t return in the 2021 lockdown, and the May 2021 yield was just £7.3 million, £0.7 million lower than it was in the Gambling Commission’s March 2019 benchmark data.
People are experimenting
Generally, it seems to be that online gamblers are trying new things, but their total gambling is remaining consistent. The Gambling Commission data suggest there are more active users across gambling types. This does not necessarily mean there are more people gambling though, since a single person playing slots, betting in a casino and having a flutter on the football counts three times.
However, while the total of active gamblers across verticals has gone up by 1.5 million, the GGY remains £80 million lower than the pre-pandemic benchmark. They are testing, but not spending, more. And gambling behaviour remains remarkably consistent. The average session on the slots, for example, has been 21 or 22 minutes for all but one month during the pandemic.
As we end pandemic restrictions, its long-term effects are still unknown. Online gamblers have experimented, but it’s still unclear whether they will stick with new habits or, like poker, revert to their old ways when normality has returned.