What the Gambling Industry in the United Kingdom Could Look Like in 2026

by Joe Ellison Last Updated
UK gambling

UK gambling will soon undergo a transformation that will alter how players and investors interact in the market.

Since the introduction of online gaming in the 1990s, the UK gambling sector has undergone the most substantial upheaval. When compared to what was available to gamers nearly 30 years ago, the presence of online casinos and sports betting sites has risen to unprecedented dimensions. In fact, the Gambling Act of 2005 provided the rocket fuel required to send an entire new entertainment business into orbit. These days, there are around 2,600 UK gambling sites and 36.5 million registered gaming accounts.

Many people, however, believe that internet gambling in the United Kingdom has peaked. This is due to the government’s gradual implementation of a new gaming laws that will overhaul the industry’s rule book. The White Paper being circulated in Westminster will have far-reaching implications for everyone. Players, site owners, developers, politicians, and investors will scrutinise its pages. This means that if the present gaming laws proposed by UK MPs become law, the landscape in this country could drastically shift.

In this section, we look at how the White Paper – and any subsequent gaming legislation – will influence the sector over the next three years…

UK gambling laws

What Will UK Gambling Industry Look Like?

Gambling in the UK was meant to get updated laws before 2019 but the mess around who would be leader of the Conservative party – and therefore prime minister – put a pause to the process. Then Covid-19 hit and the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) was given more time to draw up its recommendations.

Covid-19 coincided with a spike in new betting and gambling accounts being set up across the UK. Therefore the recommendations had to be changed in accordance with fresh user habits.

It means we’re only now at a stage where the government could seriously look at a White Paper and begin passing it through parliament. Even then, the likelihood that a Labour government will replace Rishi Sunak’s party in 2024 means the updated gambling laws UK players and investors need could be further kicked down the road.

It is assumed that by 2026 these issues will have been ironed out and legislation finally passed. And here’s what we can expect from the new bill…

  • Tighter regulations

It’s almost guaranteed that tighter regulations are coming to the UK gambling industry. This means a complete overhaul of the current system and how gaming operators and software developers create their products. More government interference is coming, it might be harder to launch gambling sites, it will certainly become more costly, and the industry won’t be as attractive an investment.

  • More online casinos

However, it’s almost certain that more online casinos and betting sites will launch in the UK even if regulations are tighter. That’s because every year the market pool grows. Recent data shows the most active users of the best online casinos are 45-55 year olds who have spare income and are retired. Every year more people in this demographic become tech-savvy with smartphones, and their presence in the market grows. Investors and casinos will likely add more gambling website offerings to the market, in order to meet demand.

  • No sports betting advertising

The pool of potential sports betting and casino gambling users grows every year. But we won’t see as much of it on TV, on radio and in newspapers, as we currently do. That’s because the White Paper proposes greater restrictions on gambling advertising, starting with short sponsorships for football teams. The UK gambling industry is trying to get ahead of this by cutting advertising during live broadcast football games, but the regulators are going to tighten up nevertheless.

  • Smaller profit margins

It’s already happening. UK casinos and betting sites are beginning to suffer lower profit margins because of “regulatory headwinds”. Entain, which owns Ladbrokes, Coral and Bwin among others, expect their profits to dip 26% in 2023. Meanwhile, share prices across the board are down. Higher costs, energy and regulatory changes are driving down shares while increasing costs. However, it’s unlikely the industry would ever go into the red for ever – and certainly not by 2026.

  • Shift to America

While the UK braces itself for fresh regulation, casino companies are looking to the unlocked territories of the United States for their next big payday. Almost half of the US now legalises mobile casinos and sports betting, and the industry is only going to get bigger. US firms like MGM and Caesars have either teamed up with European betting companies to help their expansions into the market, or in William Hill’s case simply bought them out. The shift to America will greatly impact Entain, Flutter and the rest’s profit margins. While the UK comes under tighter regulation, the US industry is set to roam free.

  • Affordability checks

This hits players in a good way. Affordability checks mean players will have to prove they have the money to risk at a casino or sports betting site. Gambling in the UK is behind other European nations in bringing these checks forward, and the legislation will certainly help prevent problem gamblers from wagering too much.

  • Maximum £2 slots bets

Another big change will be the setting of a new maximum bet on slot machines. The current £2 max bet only applies to highstreet slots and casino games in bookmakers, pubs, etc. But now it’s going online. This will severely cut the jackpot sizes of online slots, but will extend the longevity of gametime for players.

  • Statutory gambling levy

Gambling companies currently pay a voluntary levy to the government to help tackle problem gaming. It’s worth more than £100m a year and grows annually. However, the government wants to implement a statutory levy for all betting sites. The levy will likely be flexible but it’s another cost on top of tax and licensing fees that gambling firms will need to stomach.

Is It Worth Investing In A Gambling Website?

Right now gambling sites and sports betting firms are open to investment. After all, their share prices are generally falling across the board – and additional investment can help shore up finances and keep the profits coming. But is it worth it? Quite possibly, yes. The UK gambling industry is in a weird position where share prices are falling but profits are still healthy (even if they’re falling too). A lot of firms are looking to invest and protect themselves from the rigours of the upcoming gambling legislation.

So investing is certainly an option if you’re looking at the long term. By 2026 the industry will have changed but the big boys will still be around. They’ll likely have forged even greater ties with America, and will have stomached the new UK legislation.

The global online sports betting market is expected to hit $182bn by 2030, while online gambling comes in close at $153bn. Combined, there’s a lot of money at play here and betting firms are getting smart about where their tentacles reach.

Gambling in the UK

While the UK figures out its new gambling legislation, there are scores of best casino apps and sites that are making steady progress and changing how they do things. Revamping websites, decluttering casino suites, improving customer service and delivering bigger jackpots.

Gambling in the UK right now is getting its act together, ready for whatever the government has to throw at it. And the very best, proactive sites are the ones likely to weather the impending storm.

About the Author

    

    
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Joe is a journalist, editor and copywriter who specialises in sport, politics, film and the gaming industry. He works on Fleet Street for national newspapers and other publicans across the UK and in North America. He is an experienced product reviewer and editor for global brands and gambing companies. He has interviewed everyone from elite sport stars to the next generation of influential business people.
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