Gambling Commission Report Shows Impact of COVID-19 Restrictions

The British Gambling Commission has published its latest report and, as expected, it shows that COVID-19 restrictions had an impact on all parts of the industry.

UK Gambling statistics

COVID-19 restrictions had a significant impact on the UK’s gambling industry last year, but online operators were still able to flourish. (Image: Corporate Finance Institute)

Statistics for April 2020 to September 2020 were published by the Gambling Commission at the end of May. As noted in the press release, nationwide lockdowns affected live venues as well as online operators. With COVID-19 restrictions taken into account, plus a lack of reporting from some licensees, gross gambling yield (GGY) was down 58% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Report shows dramatic drop in GGY

GGY for the gambling industry in Britain between April 2020 and September 2020 was £5.9 billion. That’s down from £14.2 billion between April 2019 to March 2020. It’s important to note that the latest report covers a six-month period, while the previous reports looked at GGY over the course of a year. However, even when this is taken into account, betting activity was lower than usual for much of 2020.

This is hardly surprising given that all parts of Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland)) went into a series of lockdowns from March 23, 2020, onwards. Although there were certain nuances within each constituent nation (e.g., some things were allowed in England that weren’t possible in Scotland), it was far from business as usual last year.

Casinos, bingo halls, and racetracks were closed for much of the aforementioned accounting period. Moreover, COVID-19 restrictions brought a temporary halt to live sporting events. All of this led to significant losses for all of Britain’s largest operators. Genting was forced to shutter its poker rooms as part of a cost-cutting exercise, while Rank reported losses of £10 million per month.

Online gaming rises, live betting falls

There was an initial uptick in online activity. British poker sites saw traffic increase thanks to the creation of major tournament festivals. This led to strong earnings for the remote betting sector. According to the Gambling Commission, GGY for April to September 2020 was £3.1 billion.

The regulator’s previous report shows online earnings for April 2019 to March 2020 of £5.7 billion. So, based on six months’ worth of data from 2020, it appears GGY is on track to be £500 million higher than it was previously. Of course, this is assuming the level of online activity remained consistent as COVID restrictions eased. We won’t know that until the Gambling Commission releases its next report in November.

However, the current data does suggest a divide has opened up between live and online gambling income.

What’s good for some, isn’t for others

In addition to seeing a drop in total GGY, the number of betting stores in Britain decreased last year. As of September 2020, there were 6,735 active stores. That’s a reduction of 12.3% from the previous reporting period. These outlets represent the industry’s biggest casualties of the pandemic. Live casinos have taken a knock, but many operators remained buoyant by increasing their output online.

The shift from in-person to online gambling has been happening for over a decade now. Therefore, betting store closures are nothing new. However, the pandemic appears to have sped up the process and made the UK more of an online gambling nation than ever before.

Written by
Daniel Smyth
Dan Smyth is a poker media journeyman who politely reminds CardsChat readers that poker is played all around the world, not just America.

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