It goes without saying that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on in-person gambling – in fact the Gambling Commission has stopped collecting statistics from licensed betting operators (LBOs) due to the tighter restrictions imposed in November 2020.

At the end of January 2021, the GC published its latest assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on gambling in the UK, covering the period from March to November and looking at both real-world and online gambling.

Some of the headline figures from the latest update include:

  • A month-on-month increase of 3% in active online gambling accounts
  • A month-on-month increase of 4% in total online bets placed
  • A 4% increase in online slots bets to over 5.2 billion
  • A 3% increase in gross gambling yield from online slots to £177 million
  • A record high number of active online slots accounts (2.8 million) during the pandemic

The average online slots session now lasts 22 minutes, an increase of one minute over the previous month, while 8% of sessions – 2.2 million in November – last over an hour.

Cause for concern?

Despite the increase in longer gambling sessions and across-the-board increases in active accounts and betting activity, the GC reports no immediate need for concern about an increase in problem gambling.

“The consumer research data continues to show that across the population as a whole, there is no evidence of a significant or sustained increase in gambling activity in the COVID-19 period,” it said.

Consumer data from the Gambling Commission shows about one in eight people (13%) have gambled more since the COVID-19 pandemic began, yet 27% have gambled less and the remaining 60% have gambled about the same.

For real-world venue operators, including pubs and clubs that provide gaming machines to patrons, this is a reassuring sign of a stable market demand waiting to return to bricks-and-mortar premises.

Get ready to reopen

The future roadmap is still not set in stone, and likely depends on the balance between COVID-19 vaccinations and new variants of Coronavirus over the course of 2021.

However, we would urge all hospitality operators, pubs, clubs and other venues to get ready to reopen, and welcome all enquiries about new gaming machines or delayed maintenance and upgrades to your existing fruit machines.

Remember too that other significant market trends – such as the move to polymer banknotes and 12-sided £1 coins – still need attention if your machines have not been updated to prevent the use of expired currency.

The shutdown has caused significant challenges across all sectors, but this is the time to take whatever actions are necessary to get back to business as soon as you’re given permission to open up.