U.K. Gamblers Moving Toward More Online Play

Online gaming has surpassed retail gaming in the U.K. and is becoming the dominant form in the sector. Meanwhile, according to the U.K. Gambling Commission, 15 million people gamble legally and the industry has almost recovered to pre-pandemic levels, but Michael Dugher (l.), CEO of the Betting and Gaming Council, worries that high taxes and strict regs could drive punters to illegal casinos.

U.K. Gamblers Moving Toward More Online Play

U.K. Gambling levels have almost recovered pre-pandemic levels—with a gradual player shift toward more online play. Currently 15 million in Great Britain gamble under products that are legal under the Gambling Act of 2005.

Those are some takeaways from the publication of the U.K. Gambling Commission’s 2022 Industry Statistics. It examines the shape and size of the sector, including impacts of macro trends and of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gross gambling yield (GGY) excepting lotteries, increased 16.5 percent from April 2021 to March 2022. However, the total of £9.93 billion ($12.0 billion/€11.53 billion) is still 0.8 percent lower than the years before the pandemic. Online gaming accounted for £3.9 billion— with £3 billion from slots.

The Commission stated: “Since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in 2021 and products and opportunities to gamble are available to consumers again, the overall percentage of the adult population who gamble remains lower than it was pre-Covid (28 percent).”

It compared the numbers who gamble to the numbers who visit a museum or art gallery during a year.

According to the Commission: “It is important not to always consider the gambling sector as a uniform sector – from an industry or consumer perspective. The gambling sector we regulate comprises a diverse range of products used by a wide range of consumers. Consumers play on different products, for different experiences, in person and online – sometimes at the same time.”

Consumers use gambling to socialize or have “me time.” It is both a “niche activity, and something engaged in by the mainstream.” Gambling in the U.K. was greatly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and currently by high inflation.

Before the pandemic the percentage that gambled was static at about 32 percent. It was more popular among men than women and the age group most likely to participate was the 25 to 34 group.

During the pandemic participation fell 16 percent. Although Covid restrictions were lifted in 2021, adult participation is currently 28 percent. “There are signs of a return to gambling among younger age groups aged 16 to 24 and among males gambling in retail,” said the Commission.

The Commission stated: “The biggest change in the gambling landscape is a shift to online play, reflecting our lifestyles in general. Technology and globalization have meant that gambling is no longer confined to opening hours and largely local events, but instead a 24 hours 7 days a week opportunity and global event-driven marketplace.” It added, “Online gambling is firmly part of the wider digital eco-system in terms of consumer expectations and operator delivery.”

It added, “but spend appears to have increased more quickly than the increase in consumers.”

In September 2022 surveys indicated the proportion of adults gambling online (18 percent) was equal to the proportion gambling in person. A deep decline for in-person gambling over five years. This change, says the Commission, “was also driven mainly by women rather than men.”

The report added, “Whilst the popularity of gambling in person has declined over time, it remains a significant part of the sector and is showing signs of recovery following the pandemic.”

The popularity of horse racing (17 percent) and slot machines (14 percent) in 2007 compared to today has declined to 8 percent and 6 percent respectively. Retail betting and bingo have also decreased 36 percent and 44 percent respectively since 2015.

The number of licensed operators fell from 2,441 in March 2021 to 2,419 in 2022. Online casino operators fell from 599 to 591 and the number of active premises fell 3 percent to 8,308.

At the same time, however, in-person play had increased in September 2022, compared to the year before, especially among males and younger adults.

The commission notes that it is easier for consumers to play in private online, without peer judgment or interference.

Meanwhile, a recent survey for the United Kingdom’s Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) warned that government reviews of gambling laws could send bettors to online black markets.

The YouGov survey showed 67 percent of respondents believe mandatory spending limits by the English government would lead people to offshore betting sites. The survey also revealed that 64 percent of those polled feared that would spark an increase in problem gambling.

Almost 70% of people who said they placed a bet said they are against government intervention, such as regulated betting and gaming firms carrying out routine affordability checks to make certain a gambler can afford the wager.

That idea was proposed by those wanting more government regulation saying it would help curb problem gambling.

The latest figures from the BGC show the rate of problem gambling in the UK has decreased in recent years, dropping from 0.4 percent to 0.3 percent. The amount of people utilizing offshore or illegal online sites, however, has doubled in recent years from 220,000 to 460,000.

The CEO of the BGC, Michael Dugher, said the poll revealed interesting data for the government as they debate whether to institute more reforms.

“We strongly support the Gambling Review as a further opportunity to raise standards and promote safer gambling,” Dugher said. “Ministers have rightly always said it will be an evidence-led process, these poll findings are an important reminder of the risks of getting this wrong by introducing arbitrary blanket spending checks on anyone who likes a flutter.”

The BGC pointed out that regulations already include valuable tools to prevent problem gambling, such as strict ID and age verification checks, deposit limits, and cooling-off periods.

“The BGC is in favor of further enhanced spending checks but believes the focus should be on problem gamblers or those at risk rather than everyone who bets,” the group noted.