The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on almost all industries, with gambling being one of many sectors that experienced its full wrath.
Government-issued stay-at-home measures first led to the closure of gambling venues, then restricted such spots to operate at lowered capacities, only to have them close down againin December. During a period where playing games of chance at physical establishments was a forbidden pastime, many betting enthusiasts turned to the digital sphere, where they started exploring UKGC-regulated casinos and sites not on GamStop.
Thus, according to new projections provided by Pune-based research firm Fortune Business Insights, the global online gambling market is now on track to hit $158 billion by 2028, growing at an annual compound rate of 11.4%. What follows below is an in-depth look at how the ongoing global pandemic impacted the digital gaming sector and accelerated its growth.
The Closure of Land-Based Venues Led to Strong Online Numbers
In March of 2020, casinos worldwide began closing due to health scares stemming from the novel COVID-19 virus. In the UK, all non-essential businesses had to shut down in March, gambling locales included. In June of last year, UK’s Betting and Gaming Council announced that brick-and-mortar casinos in the country could reopen starting from the 4thof July if they would obey strict sanitation and social distancing protocols. However, in December of last year, they had to shutter again because of new lockdown restrictions following a spike in infections.
During physical venues’ downtime in early 2020, data supplied by UK operators showed a Gross Gambling Yield increase of 115% for online betting, which rose to £217.5m between May and June of that year. Per a University of Bristol study published in the Journal of Gambling Studies, in May of 2021, online gambling soared during the first lockdown, particularly among regular gamblers. Those already actively betting on the internet engaged in this activity up to six times more than before the pandemic hit, and those that occasionally dabbled in online gambling found themselves doing so twice as more than before everyone when into lockdown.
Sports Betting Suffered Due to Postponed/Canceled Leagues
Sports betting was one of the most sizeable losers of 2020. In March of last year, almost all sports leagues around the globe got postponed due to the health risks associated with the gathering of large groups of people. In Europe, the Belarus top ice hockey and football leagues were the exceptions, as not only events in these competitions went on as planned, but they also got played in front of live audiences. They were the single betting options at digital sportsbooks in mid-2020.
That said, once the first lockdown ended, horse racing was one sport that could quickly and easily adapt to the new mandatory measures. It became one of the first sports confirmed to resume in 2020, beginning with a closed-doors event held at Newcastle Racecourse on June 1st. Naturally, horse racing had to implement a slew of changes to ensure strict adherence to social distancing measures. However, its availability when gambling options were scarce led to increased interest in it that spilled over to 2021. In April of 2021, with betting shops closed, the Grand National race set the UK online sports betting record, with over £100 million wagered on this event.
Virtual sports betting was also one of the benefactors of the current global crisis. It is the practice of wagering on digital sporting events or sports simulations. Once everyone got locked indoors with no real matches on TV, virtual sports gambling increased by 40%, according to the UKGC. It was still going strong as the year came to a close, posting a 9% spike in interest in November 2020.
Slot Gameplay & Poker Rose During Government-Issued Lockdowns
Online slots are the breadwinners of the internet gambling industry, producing as much as 70% of its revenues. The first digital real money reel-spinner went live along with the debut platform InterCasino in 1996. Since then, this gambling genre has dominated the interactive gaming space. At the start of the pandemic, the number of slot players was significantly higher than a year earlier, rising by 25%. However, after this surge last March, the number of active players slowly decreased throughout the year. That changed in November of 2020 when this figure hit a year high of 2.8 million. Even though the number of players varied throughout 2020, the number of total bets saw a steady climb. That is not factoring in bets made at casinos not on GamStop, the UKGC’s mandatory self-exclusion scheme.
Online poker experienced a renaissance during the lockdown. Google searches for terms like best poker hand (up 282%) jumped dramatically in early-2020. Furthermore, Flutter Entertainment reported that its online poker brand – PokerStars, grew by 23% last year.
UK Players Sought Alternatives Such as Casinos Not on GamStop
Due to the expanding interest in online gambling, UK operators got ordered by the UKGC to slow down online slot gameplay. The move stemmed from a 2020 YouGov survey that showed a rise in problem gamblers in Brittan. Thus, the UKGC made spin-timers at online casinos mandatory and eliminated the use of auto-play functions. According to non-gamstop-casinos.com, those measures have made slot gameplay unfavorable for many players who turned to reputable casinos not on GamStop.
A casino not on GamStop is a gaming platform with a license from an international regulator and not the UK’s Gambling Commission. Other than that, it is more or less identical to most UK gambling sites. GamStop is the UKGC obligatory self-exclusion program that every UKGC-licensed operator must feature. Activating this option at one UK site makes it impossible for a player to continue his gaming journey at any other online casino with a UKGC license until the duration of his/her self-exclusion period expires. Slots not registered with GamStop allow auto-play and have higher max bet limits.
There is no doubt that the current global pandemic served as a catalyzer for the shift from offline to online gambling. Naturally, once land-based venues make a comeback with no safety restrictions in place, the digital sector will face a slight decline. Nevertheless, habits attained during the lockdowns should last well past the pandemic, fueling the rise of digital internet platforms as they try to overthrow their physical counterparts in the battle for gambling supremacy.