How has COVID-19 affected the UK iGaming industry?

UK iGaming Industry

It goes without saying that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a significant impact on iGaming in the UK. A lack of sporting activity, combined with a lockdown lasting over 10 weeks and the need to pivot has been challenging for operators and affiliates alike. 

With that being said, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The government has approved the return of competitive sports, even though things will look different for a while. On top of that, life is – albeit at the pace of a turtle – getting back to some form of normal. 

So, in the fallout of everything, what was the extent of the virus’ impact on the country’s online gaming industry? Online casino affiliate Bojoko recently published a report looking at this. Here are their main findings. 

The impact on sports betting 

Unsurprisingly, interest in sports betting has dropped over the past few months. Between February and April 2020, data acquired from Google Trends revealed a 41% drop in the volume of users searching for “Best Sports Betting Sites”. More specifically to this particular vertical, “Sports Betting UK” saw 33% less interest. 

The beginning of April saw the Virtual Grand National aired on ITV, which raised over £2.5 million for the NHS. Google Trends’ volume index – with 0 being the lowest and 100 being the highest – showed that this event coincided with an increase in sports betting interest. The score for the term “Sports Betting” went up from 45 in March to 75 in April. 

The above highlights positive signs for when sports in the UK fully resume, particularly for the Premier League and commencement of Royal Ascot later this month. Just because some players haven’t bet for three months doesn’t mean that they won’t return. So, in some ways, this was similar to people not betting on football during the off-season. 

The impact on online casino 

In the absence of major sporting events (unless you happen to be an avid follower of the Belarussian Premier League), you won’t be too shocked to hear that online casino games have attracted more attention in the UK. Between February and April, search volume for “Best Casino Sites” jumped up by 78%. In addition to this, the term “Casino Sites” saw its search volume score rise from 30 in February to 43 in April.  

These statistics are somewhat contrary to trends that have happened on mainland Europe. Findings from one unnamed operator with customers in Norway, Germany, Finland and Sweden discovered that while 85% of sports bettors played casino games prior to their respective countries’ lockdowns, only 77% did so afterwards. We don’t know why this is the case, but can speculate. Some individuals might simply just play casino games while they bet on sports, while others could have been speculative about regulation – such as Sweden’s proposed interim online casino limits. 

The gambling industry outlook for the rest of 2020 

A shutdown of many land-based gaming venues has, naturally, contributed to some of those customers moving online – even if only temporarily. H2 Gambling Capital believes that by the end of this year, online will make up 16.5% of the total gambling market worldwide. Prior to the spread of COVID-19, this was projected to be 13%. 

The gambling research firm also predicts total revenue across on and offline sources to be $399.6 billion. This is 15.6% lower than the pre-pandemic forecast.

Post-pandemic opportunities 

Those that have successfully pivoted during the last three months or so will potentially have additional revenue sources, such as esports, which could be prosperous for years to come. However, it’s important to not completely disregard these just because sports are returning. With players that have warmed to these verticals, you might discover cross-selling opportunities. 

The impact of social distancing might have an effect on player trends going forward. Since so many people have been kept apart from their friends, they may put a couple of quid on an accumulator at the weekend with them for the social aspect. Others may start placing bets because they’ve missed being involved in the matchday experience. This is even more the case when fans still probably won’t be allowed back into stadiums for a while. Either way, this poses an opportunity for operators and affiliates to attract a new, bigger audience. 

Final thoughts 

COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of society in the UK and the iGaming industry is no different. Player behavioural changes over the past few months offer key indicators about how they might act in a post-lockdown world. 

Some players may continue betting on alternative verticals, while returning to sports betting. Others, on the other hand, may just stick with sports betting. 

The end-of-year projections for the gambling industry in general aren’t overly surprising. In the absence of land-based betting, we may find over the coming years that the events of H1 2020 just sped up the process of online gaming being adopted by more. We also shouldn’t worry too much about the revised revenue drop, because there are enough signs to highlight that the industry will recover.

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