COVID-19 lockdown does not create ‘sustained increase in gambling activity,’ says Gambling Commission

by Karina Chen Last Updated
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Nationwide lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic have not triggered a “significant” increase in gambling activity across the United Kingdom as was first expected, it has been revealed.

Online betting data during the second nationwide lockdown in November 2020 showed that there has been only a 3 per cent rise in active accounts, and a 4 per cent increase in bets, month-on-month.

The modest rises – as found by a UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) report – indicate that casinos and bookmakers have not managed to fully turn to the online or mobile casino platforms to cover the impact highstreet closures have had on industry. 

There was a concern when the first lockdown hit in March 2020 that highstreet bookmakers and casinos would be forced to close for good, which triggered a scramble from betting companies to perfect their online presence and product, to make them stand out in a crowded market.

Yet the data suggests that while a portion of betting customers have shifted to online gambling, it is less than initially expected.

The severe drop in live sporting events to bet on during the summer also didn’t help bookmakers, although since the autumn professional sport has got back to some form of normality.

The UKGC also investigated betting statistics from as early as March 2020 to cover a period that spanned the first major COVID-19 lockdown in the UK and subsequent shorter restrictions. It found “no evidence of a significant or sustained increase in gambling activity in the COVID-19 period”.

The report added: “Among all those who have ever gambled, six in 10 say the amount they gamble has been unaffected by COVID-19, 27% report a decrease and only 13% an increase.”

COVID-19 impact on online slots

One of the key findings of the UKGC was that online casino activity has barely changed since the coronavirus pandemic. The data shows online gross gambling yield (GGY) for slots increased by just 3 per cent to £177m and that there were 5.2 billion bets placed in this period, a 4 per cent rise. 

It also found that the average length of time spent playing casino games increased by just one minute to 22 minutes, while 14 per cent of men under the age of 35 bet on sport in order to socialise during lockdown.

The small increases will come as good news for betting companies who are fighting the economic impact of highstreet closures during the lockdown, as well as campaigners who were initially concerned the pandemic would increase instances of problem gambling.

The report has therefore advised betting firms to offer “extra vigilance” in their efforts to tackle problem gambling during the pandemic.

There are already a swathe of measures in place across the UK online gambling sector to help tackle issues of problem gambling. Players can set deposit limits, spend limits and receive time checks while they’re logged into a casino account.

Meanwhile, HSBC recently extended their cooling-off period to 72 hours. This is a self-imposed restriction for players who want to stop funds from their bank going into their betting account. The move from the bank reflects other similar approaches to aid the fight against problem gambling.

UKGC core findings:

  • 60% of people say gambling unaffected by COVID-19
  • 3% gambling yield increase in November
  • More men betting on sport in order to socialise
  • Casino sessions rise on average to 22 minutes
  • 4% increase in bets during October-November 2020
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