UK Online Gambling Revenue Surged 30% in December 2020

  • Sports betting accounted for £319m of December’s £614m in online gross gambling yield
  • Online slots GGY was £200m, up 13% from the previous month
  • The average online slots session was shorter, but sessions over one hour rose
  • The UKGC has emphasized to operators that must be diligent in their safe gambling measures
  • The pandemic and its associated lockdowns has damaged the UK land-based casino industry
UK online gambling concept - mobile devices showing a roulette wheel, flanked by the Union Jack
UK online gambling operators enjoyed a 30% jump in gross gambling yield from November to December 2020, but the UKGC has warned them to be vigilant in their safe gambling measures. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Sports betting carried the weight

Online gambling in the United Kingdom surged in December 2020 as yet another lockdown kept people in their homes. According to data published by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) on Tuesday, online gross gambling yield (GGY) was nearly £614m ($866m) for the month, a 30% leap from November.

Numbers were up across the board. There were 6% more active accounts in December compared to November and 12% more total bets/slot spins made. Sports betting won the day, accounting for more than half – £319m ($450m) – of December’s GGY, a 53% increase from the previous month. The UKGC chalked this up mostly to December simply being a busy sports month, highlighted by the Christmas Premier League.

slots GGY was almost £200m ($282m) in December, a jump of 13%

Slots, the most popular game among online casino players, enjoyed a solid boost in December. The number of slots bets was up 12% from November to 6 billion, mirroring the overall online gambling betting numbers. Active accounts increased 6% to nearly 3 million. Overall, slots GGY was almost £200m ($282m) in December, a jump of 13%.

UKGC focused on safe gambling efforts

Though industrywide increases are good news for online gambling operators, the UKGC is concerned about the pandemic’s potential negative effect on gambling customers. Though the average online slots session decreased in length by a bit to 21.5 minutes, the number of sessions lasting longer than an hour rose by 11% to 2.5 million. About 8% of all online slots sessions eclipsed one hour in November.

The UKGC points out what is likely fairly obvious, that lockdown restrictions that went into place in the UK late in the year caused more people to stay home for longer periods of time. People “are likely to be feeling more isolated and vulnerable as a result of the length of the pandemic period.”

Those who already gamble are likely to spend more time and money doing so and those who don’t may start.

operators must be very aware of problem gambling triggers

The UKGC said that it has contacted operators to reiterate the importance of their responsible gaming protocols. Because online gambling frequency has been increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic, operators must be very aware of problem gambling triggers and directly interact with customers when they are reached. The commission also warned operators to not “exploit” the pandemic for marketing purposes and to tread lightly when cross-selling products.

While online gambling thrived, casinos suffered

Unlike online gambling sites, brick-and-mortar gaming venues were hit hard in 2020, as one might expect. Similar to what happened in United States, casinos were ordered to close in March as the seriousness of the pandemic was starting to be understood. Small betting shops – the kind where customers do not tend to stay for long – reopened in three months, but full-fledged casinos stayed closed for five months.

With COVID-19 cases and deaths rising and falling throughout the year, some areas of the United Kingdom initiated multiple casino shutdowns, creating confusion in the industry. Hippodrome Casino CEO Simon Thomas called the government’s policies on lockdowns “farcical.”

Though things will get back to “normal” at some point, significant damage has already been done to the UK casino industry. Genting UK has permanently closed four casinos and all of its poker rooms. More than 1,600 employees’ jobs were at risk, pending reassignment. The UK is still under lockdown and when previous restrictions were relaxed, casinos were among the last to be permitted to get back to business, if they even were at all.