The latest report from the UK Gambling Commission paints the clearest picture yet of British gaming activity during the COVID-19 lockdown. Following a period of highs, online poker activity is falling.
When the UK went into lockdown on March 23, the narrative within the online poker and gaming industry focused on newbies. Google search analytics and traffic data pointed to a swell of new player activity.
However, as more data has become available, the statistics show that a COVID-19-induced surge may not have brought in as many novices as first expected.
Initial Surge Flattens During COVID-19 Lockdown
The UKGC’s latest report covers activity through May 2020 and shows that online activity is steadily normalizing. Although there’s been an increase in new customer activity, the initial influx of first-timers is falling.
According to Monday’s report, just 0.4% of people surveyed by YouGov gambled for the first time during lockdown. This data tallies with a 1.2% drop in overall online gambling activity between April and May.
Looking at online poker specifically, British operators saw a 53% increase in traffic between March and April. The most recent stats show an 11% decrease from April to May. Although that means activity is still up 42% compared to March 2020, the trendline is on a downward trajectory.
Evidence that online gaming is slowly returning to pre-COVID-19 levels is visible elsewhere in the report. Online slots and casino gaming are down a combined 9% month-on-month, while sports betting is up 13% thanks to the return of soccer.
The total number of bets placed on poker is also down 11% between April and May, after being up 70% at the start of lockdown. While online poker is losing traction, there are signs that COVID-19 has removed some of the disparity between verticals.
Activity is More Evenly Distributed
Prior to the pandemic, online casino games and sports betting were dominant. A case in point is PokerStars. Despite being the largest online poker operator in the world, just 27.5% of its revenue came from the game in Q4, 2019.
With live sports put on hold due to COVID-19, consumers have widened their scope. According to the report, 48% of engaged gamblers (those who gambled previously) tried one or more new verticals for the first time during lockdown.
More data is needed to assess the long-term impact of consumers diversifying their betting interests. However, the latest trend may flatten the curve and bring online poker closer to other verticals in terms of overall activity.
That would be a win for the industry. Even if first-time players drift away, engaging more casino and sports betting customers will give British poker sites a boost.
The UK is still in a partial lockdown. Betting shops are open, but casinos remain closed. With no indication as to when casinos will reopen, online activity should remain higher than normal for much of July. The acid test for poker operators, however, will be how gamblers choose to spend their money when life returns to normal.