Active Online Gamblers Fell by 7% in August, UK Gambling Commission Reports

  • Overall decline in UK online gambling market for the month, real event betting dropped 12%
  • English Premier League break, holiday season, easing COVID-19 restrictions all possible factors
  • Most customers who took up gambling during lockdown have since stopped
  • Online gambling activity did rise significantly for certain verticals in previous months
  • UKGC imposed tougher restrictions on operators to protect players during the pandemic
man viewing online poker promo on a tablet device
UKGC data shows a 7% month-on-month drop in active online gambling customers for August 2020. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Declining figures across the board

UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) data shows a 7% month-on-month drop in the number of active online gambling customers for August 2020. The UK regulator has been keeping a close eye on any changes in online and in-person gambling behavior during the pandemic, publishing reports on a monthly basis. 

The online market as a whole contracted slightly in August, with the total number of wagers falling by 2% and real event betting dropping 12%. Overall gross gambling yield (GGY) declined 12% month-on-month, down to £406m ($526m). GGY for retail betting stores remained steady, but total spins and bets both decreased 2% since July.

end of the 2019-2020 English Premier League soccer season in July may have contributed

The UKGC believes that the end of the 2019-2020 English Premier League soccer season in July may have contributed to some of these declines. It cited the holiday season and more discretionary spending options due to easing COVID-19 restrictions as other possible contributors. 

Online slots sessions lasting for over an hour fell 7% over July figures, but the average duration of a playing session stayed the same at 21 minutes. The loss per active online slots player rose by almost £2 ($2.59) in August, up to £68 ($88.14). This compares to £43 ($55.74) for real event betting and £35 ($45.37) for other online casino games. 

Changing consumer trends

The UKGC is also interpreting the results of a consumer survey conducted by the Yonder online omnibus to explore changes in people’s gambling behaviors since the outbreak of coronavirus. 

Questions relate to three periods: pre-lockdown (January to mid-March), during lockdown (mid-March to mid-June), and post-lockdown (mid-June to the date of the survey).

57% of the people surveyed were not gamblers pre-COVID-19. However, 4% of these went on to gamble online during the nationwide lockdown. The majority subsequently stopped the activity post-lockdown, while some continued online or started to gamble in-person. Among those who gambled in-person pre-lockdown, 2.2% transitioned online once lockdown kicked in. More than half of these are still gambling online. 

Some of the reasons why 12% of respondents increased their gambling spend during lockdown included boredom, lack of excitement, free time, and attempts to generate income. 25% said they reduced the amount gambled during the initial lockdown.

Previous increases

When the initial lockdown period began, the UK gambling landscape underwent many changes. Land-based casinos and retail betting stores had to close and most major sporting events got canceled. This led to a search for alternative gambling options. 

The latest UKGC data shows significant rises at certain stages for online casinos, virtual betting, esports betting, and online poker. Esports betting GGY increased from £1.5m ($1.94m) in March to £4.6m ($5.96m) in May. Online poker GGY jumped about 66% from March figures, reaching £20m ($25.9m) the following month. The number of people actively playing online poker in the UK rose from 408,316 in March to 626,304 in April.

real event betting exploded as soon as major sports started making a comeback

Real event betting exploded as soon as major sports started making a comeback. In March, it plummeted from £161m ($208.7m) GGY down to less than £62m ($80.3m) the following month. By June, GGY had risen up to almost £217.5m ($281.9m) before dropping 21% to £164.4m ($212.7m) in August. 

Protecting gamblers

In March, the UKGC began to carefully monitor changes in gambling behavior as a result of the pandemic. The data gathered looks at in-person and online gambling, while also taking into account consumer research.

Some of the ways in which the UKGC continually deals with COVID-19 risks include assessing the impact of strengthened rules for operators, collecting and publishing relevant data, and taking further action if evidence points towards additional consumer risks.

Over the course of the pandemic, the UKGC enacted a number of changes for operators. These included tougher advertising rules, more stringent affordability checks, preventing reverse withdrawals, bonus offer restrictions, and greater monitoring of gambling behavior.