UK online gambling activity rises, revenue falls in November 2020


UK online gambling operators saw activity grow but revenue shrink as sports betting margins retreated to more traditional levels. 

Figures released Wednesday by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) detail its online gambling licensees’ activity during the month of November, part of the regulator’s ongoing commitment to disclosing how the country’s gamblers are coping with the impact of COVID-19. 

November marked the UK’s second pandemic lockdown, although major sports events weren’t disrupted as they were during the spring lockdown. But many residents were once again forced to spend more time at home, opening up the possibility that they’d turn to gambling away the mortgage due to lockdown boredom. 

Fortunately, while online gambling activity experienced an increase in November, “overall, there has not been a significant or sustained increase in gambling activity” since the pandemic began. Three-fifths of UK gamblers say their spending has not changed since March, while 27% reported spending less and just 13% spent more. 

Online gambling activity did hit a pandemic high in November, although this was up only marginally from October. The number of slots players rose 1% to 2.8m, other online casino games gained 4% to 1.87m and sports bettors rose 4% to 4.8m. Larger gains were reported by virtual sports bettors (225k, +7%) and online poker players (342k, +11%). 

Online slots revenue rose 3% to £176.8m, although this remains £10m below the March peak. Average slots sessions lasting over one hour rose 3% to 2.27m, although this too remains below the peaks set in April and May. 

October’s betting revenue enjoyed a wind-assist from a rash of bookmaker-favorable results, but the market fell back to earth in November as revenue slid 28% to £209.2m. This plunge pushed November’s overall revenue figure down 13% to £471.5m. 

Virtual betting headed in the opposite direction, rising 8% to £7.2m, while eSports betting shot up 78% to £1.4m. Online poker revenue gained 9% to £9.1m and ‘other’ gambling products slipped 8% to £1.3m. 

Of the individuals participating in its surveys, the UKGC noted that 4% of women aged under 35 took up gambling for the first time when the original pandemic lockdown occurred, twice the overall rate. Of these, online bingo (21%) and instant win lottery games (18%) ranked highest in terms of their preferred gambling activity. 

Women who increased their gambling spending during lockdown were more likely to cite feeling ‘low or unhappy’ as their primary motivation, while young men were more likely to cite bonus offers (22%) and the desire to socialize (14%) as the source of their increased activity.

Part of the UKGC’s motivation for releasing accurate data regarding online activity is to offer the government a proper frame of reference during its review of the Gambling Act 2005. This week, the regulator refuted claims by its online licensees regarding the market share held by internationally licensed operators who lack a UKGC license.