The online gambling industry has enjoyed a boost in growth on more than one level during the last year or so. With only one noticeable exception, the trend for UK betting companies has been a positively interesting one when so many businesses and sectors have been so adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, a boom in online gambling during lockdown led to Entain reporting a profit of £175m in the year to the end of 2020, on revenues of £3.6bn. Note that a 28% increase in online gambling income during the pandemic was in contrast to the fortunes of high street bookmakers, with many being shut down due to Covid-19 measures that have seen the UK’s high streets practically deserted during lockdown periods.
While the pandemic has had an impact on online gambling, UK companies have also been able to take advantage of the much improving market in the US, which has for years been suffering from the effects of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). For those of you new to online poker, this was an anti-gambling law which passed Congress on September 30, 2006 and was signed into law on October 13, 2006 by President George W. Bush. The issue was incredibly controversial because anti-gambling lawmakers went under the radar with a bill aimed at ending online gambling, essentially tagging it on to a totally unrelated bill. Back to the present day, and positive changes across the Atlantic – brought about in the main by the Supreme Court’s overturning a ban on internet betting – have been the green light that UK companies have been waiting for.
BetMGM, for example, is already a force to be reckoned with, having 18% market share across the dozen states in which it does business. It augurs well for the future of the industry that revenues have doubled to $178m (£128m) in a year. Not surprisingly, then, UK gambling firms – attractive to the US sector in that they’re both world leaders and potentially perfect targets and business bedfellows – have been heading west in their endeavours to jump on the proverbial bandwagon. With an increasing number of US states expected to finally legalise gambling, we’re only going to see this happen more in the future.
It wasn’t good news for everyone in the UK online gambling market in 2020, however. When its competitors were managing to either keep their heads above water or even seeing their revenues increase, William Hill experienced a 16% decline to £1.3bn, profits tanking considerably, by 61%, to £57m. Unlike the more modern, almost exclusively internet-oriented gambling companies for whom only a small percentage of their business is composed of bricks & mortar establishments, for William Hill this is closer to a quarter and, as was mentioned above, the high street has suffered considerably. In fact, in William Hill’s case, high street income halved thanks to the pandemic.
This particular aspect of the UK gambling industry will probably see irrevocable changes. While UK bookmakers will be able to re-open from 12 April thanks to the government’s ‘roadmap’ plans to gradually get the economy (especially the high street) back on its feet, uncertainty in the future due to the possibility of further COVID-19 outbreaks (and the practical implications they bring) is bound to lead to a cautious approach.
With many gambling companies embracing what has become a need to concentrate more on online development as (prospective) customers grow more accustomed to spending more time at home, online poker players, for example, can expect to see products improve and expand still further.