A steady decrease in online gambling activity has been reported by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) for May 2021 in a press release published on July 15. This is in line with the ease of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions by UK governments.
The UKGC also outlines that it is not advisable to make year-on-year comparisons between months in 2020 and months in 2021, due to differing operating circumstances of these years during the ongoing pandemic.
According to the data published by the UKGC, the number of active gambling accounts has decreased by 14%. As far as the gross gambling yield (GGY) is concerned, it has also dropped by 5% as well. However, the total bets in comparison remained at a similar level.
The data has been collected by the UKGC from all gambling operators and mainly contains online activity. Some offline gambling operator data is also included, though, land-based premises were only recently allowed to open again since closing in December 2020.
One data set stands out in the report as online slots stand in contrast with the falling numbers across the board.
GGY for slots has increased to £211m from April to May 2021 with the number of spins up by 2%. Since the number of active players dropped by 5%, it represents an increase of individual spins on average by each player. The average session length increased to 20.7 minutes, with nearly 9% of all online slots sessions lasting more than one hour.
For example, betting on real events dropped by an astonishing 24% to 5.1 million active sportsbook accounts in comparison to the previous month. The strong turnout in April with more than 6.7 million active accounts involved can be attributed to the annual Grand National Festival horse races.
Sports betting recorded the lowest GGY in the current year so far with £238.8 million, down by 11% compared to April 2021. However, it is expected that this will increase for the following months by bets being placed on this summer’s UEFA Euro 2020 championships in which England made it all the way to the final.
Other gaming including casinos dropped by 8% while poker plummeted to £7.3 million in GGY. This is the lowest figure in the current year by some margin and represents a decline of 13% compared to April 2021. The recent statement by the UKGC goes beyond the official business numbers and also offers further insights and conclusions.
The commission has also published related qualitative consumer research conducted by 2CV as well, which confirms previous insights from quantitive research on the same matter. According to the results, many of those who took part have not changed their online gambling behavior during the pandemic.
Some exceptions have appeared in the reports as well in which participants admitted to having spent more time on gambling than usual. In these cases, it was mentioned that the “period has led to some experimentation with new products”.
As the lockdown restrictions ease in the UK, the commission expects extra diligence from all operators. Many of their customers may have been influenced by the uncertainty about their personal or financial circumstances. New gambling routines and habits may have emerged during one and a half years of unusual circumstances and pose challenges to the consumers and operators alike.
The UKGC expects the operators to follow the strengthened guidance issued during the first lockdown in order to identify potential gambling addiction. The operators shall also “avoid any temptation to exploit the current situation for marketing purposes, in particular as lockdown eases and be very cautious when seeking to cross-sell products.”
Particular care with new customers and making decisions over affordability checks are required by the gambling industry according to the UKGC.
The authorities will continue monitoring key data and collecting and publishing this additional data with regards to Covid-19 related risks. As land-based premises continue to open up, the UKGC will support the industry and take steps to permanently strengthen regulatory requirements.