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How have the top bookmakers handled the pandemic?

There have been clear trends prevalent in the UK’s gambling industry over the course of the last few years, including the way in which online gambling continues to grow at the expense of offline betting and wagering, writes Mischa Port from Greypoint Gaming Group.

In many ways, such trends were accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic through 2020, as global sporting events were cancelled, and brick-and-mortar establishments were compelled to close their doors intermittently.

The operators listed on sites like have certainly benefited from the pandemic, but how have brands handled the fallout from Covid-19 and which trends have been sustained as a result of this.

The decline of offline wagering and rise of online

As the pandemic raged through 2020, sporting events across the globe were cancelled and postponed on a mass scale. This saw a seismic reduction in sports betting, especially in land-based bookmakers that were hard hit by lockdown measures (we’ll touch more on this a little later in the piece).

While sports betting (particularly offline wagering) took a subsequent hit in 2020, however, many people sought out alternative gambling verticals rather than refraining from betting completely.

This is borne out by the numbers, which showed that 17.3% of men and 16.5% of women engaged in a new form of gambling during the period that sports betting declined, with virtual casino gameplay and online bingo seeing significant spikes as a result.

What’s more, 31.3% of male respondents increased their frequency of gambling on at least one activity, while the same was true for approximately 30.3% of women.

So, while offline wagering and sports betting saw sustained declines through 2020, online activity soared, and the gambling industry as a whole banked a profit as a result.

This trend is typical of what we have seen throughout the digital age, as the burgeoning iGaming market has continually evolved to claim more than 38% of the overarching industry in the UK.

The sustained transition of gambling brands online

Clearly, brands have continued to transition online in recent times, especially in the wake of the controversial FOBT wagering cap introduction in April 2019.

This slashed the maximum wager at fixed-odds betting terminals from £100 to just £2, causing multi-channel operators like William Hill to close a host of brick-and-mortar stores and invest more online (while simultaneously targeting burgeoning international markets such as the US).

Make no mistake; the impact of the coronavirus has encouraged William Hill to pursue this strategy even more aggressively, with the brand having stated that they won’t reopen more than one hundred of its UK high street locations.

Throughout the business, William Hill is also promoting a far greater work-life balance and more flexible working arrangements for its employees post-Covid, as iGaming becomes increasingly dominant and the brand aims to reduce its wider operational costs.

Other multi-channel brands like Ladbrokes have followed suit, with the result that the total number of gambling premises in Great Britain fell by 10.8% to 9,036 in the six months ending September 2020.

Similarly, the total number of open betting shops plunged by 12.3% during the same reporting period, to 6,735. This number will take a further hit in the near-term too, as land-based gambling and sports betting become increasingly moribund.

The future for iGaming in the UK

The primary takeaway here is clear; as iGaming continues to grow at the expense of brick-and-mortar gambling, with this trend having been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic last year and during the early part of 2021.

The rate of growth in this space also appears to be compensating for offline gambling losses at present, enabling the industry to plot a viable path forward against a challenging socio-economic and regulatory backdrop. To this end, the iGaming market on these shores produced a gross gaming yield (GGY) of £5.9 billion in the six months ending September 2020, with this now accounting for a little 39% of the gambling industry as a whole.

The behaviours learned last year are unlikely to change either, as people that have discovered the joys of remote sports betting and casino gameplay will continue to wager online even as coronavirus restrictions are listed nationwide.

This is borne out by the ongoing rise of online searches pertaining to online casinos, which reached an all-time high in the UK last May and remain at an incredibly high level across the country. 

All things considered, we should expect multi-channel operators to continue their transition online, especially in the case of verticals such as sports betting. This will allow them to optimise profits and capitalise on rising demand, while also targeting the growing number of casual players now frequenting the marketplace.

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