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BRITISH FLUTTER: The State of the UK’s Gambling Industry

THE GAMBLING industry is worth around $500 billion globally. The industry grows every year and online gambling is also taking a larger share of the market.

The UK betting industry in 2019 was worth £14 billion. This takes into account all forms of betting including the National Lottery, bookmakers, bingo, arcades and online casinos.

 In 2020 however the industry took a huge blow from the global pandemic of Covid-19. At the time of writing the industry was still suffering as a second lockdown was being enforced across England and the UK with only online gambling not being negatively affected. 

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COVID LOCKDOWN

During the first lockdown all non-essential businesses were told to cease operations. Betting shops closed down, bingo halls shut their doors and casinos were locked up. This meant for 56,000 people the future suddenly became uncertain.

The UK betting industry employs 46,000 people across different areas and types of betting along with another 10,000 in bingo halls, casinos, arcades and online. With the high street closed for business, people were furloughed or let go. For individual small bookmakers the first lockdown was fatal, no doubt the second one will take even more casualties with it. 

BOOKIES 

Along with all non-essential businesses, the bookies were also ordered to close. Even as they were closing many sporting events were being cancelled or suspended along with the English Premier League leaving fewer betting options for punters. Not only did bookies miss income from sporting events but also from slot machines like duck shooter that are installed inside the shops. 

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William Hill announced in August that they would close 119 shops because of financial problems caused directly from the lockdown. Luckily out of the 300 staff affected nearly all were deployed elsewhere in the business. Other people in the industry were not so lucky. Experts in the industry predict that the high street will never return to the same level of activity or footfall as before the pandemic. 

BINGO 

Bingo in the UK has been in decline for years as an older generation of players pass away and the industry fails to attract newer players. Buzz Bingo was hit hard during the first lockdown and closed 26 halls around the country putting nearly 600 jobs at risk.

The closure of bingo halls (as well as bookmakers) doesn’t just mean the loss of jobs it also means the loss of a social activity for many. The bingo hall is not a place just for playing but also somewhere that many people get to meet their friends once a week for gossip and a catch up. 

SPORTING VENUES AND TOTES

Race tracks and sporting venues closed during the lockdown. Football was suspended and race events cancelled. This meant on-site betting at horse races stopped and there were limited options for sports fans to bet on. No premiership, no tennis, no dog racing and no horses means no money going to the gambling industry. 

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CASINOS 

All over the world casinos had to close because of coronavirus. Las Vegas, normally a flashy, brightly lit tourist spot for fun seekers and gamblers became a virtual ghost town. Thousands of people lost their jobs overnight and the money stopped pouring into the casino’s coffers. 

In the UK there are over 150 casinos nationwide and all of these had to close down and stop operations for the lockdown. Already closed for five months between March and September the casinos were once again closed for a month in November 2020 with a promise to reopen after December 2 although further restrictions are possible. Casinos tend to have large financial resources but all businesses need to make money and it remains to be seen if there will be any major closures on this side of the gambling industry. 

ONLINE 

This is one area that could raise some cheer and hope for the industry in general. During the lockdown people were stuck at home and getting bored so they needed to find some form of entertainment. Netflix added millions of new subscribers during the pandemic. Companies like UberEats saw a surge in orders as people wanted to get some variety in their stay-at-home lives. Casinos were no different. Google reported that there was a record search in the UK during April 2020 for people looking specifically for online casinos.

There was a huge surge in new players online during this time. The type of players that the online casinos were seeing could be roughly broken down into the following: Established players who already used online casinos, new players seeking out some other form of entertainment, and lastly, first time players who would normally attend bookmakers, bingo halls or traditional casinos but now couldn’t.

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Online casinos offer many things that traditional establishments cannot. You might get a casino bonus for signing up, loyalty bonuses and free bets. You have many more payment methods. They never close and you can play anonymously. The convenience of online gaming means that there is still hope for the UK’s gambling industry.

Online Paddy Power bingo is also growing as it attracts a younger audience than the traditional halls do and also older players are now discovering ways to play online and keep in touch with friends through chat room features on the bingo sites. 

SUMMARY 

It remains to see what the revenues will look like for the UK gambling industry in 2020. As the pandemic continues and the lockdown causes havoc across the country more businesses will surely face closure and more people will lose their jobs. The gambling industry is traditionally robust and will no doubt survive but perhaps the online market is where the future now lies. 

Most people have smartphones and with easy access to mobile data or WiFi anyone of the right age can go online and play poker, blackjack or roulette. They can sign up to online bookmakers with familiar names such as William Hill, Paddy Power or Ladbrokes. With more social distancing restrictions and lockdowns it is inevitable the people will spend more time online and this will keep the UK betting industry going.Sta

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