Gambling has been part of British society for hundreds of years and that is unlikely change anytime soon. However, recent trends have seen a huge switch from in-person gambling (at casinos, in betting shops and at race tracks) to the online variety. Trends that were accelerated significantly by the pandemic. From the arrival of the first online bookmaker, Blue Square in 1999, to the relaxation of the UK gambling laws by the Blair government in 2005, online betting has come to dominate the betting industry. By 2018, online casinos and sportsbooks were grabbing 39% of the overall market, by 2020 it had over half, with 52%. The overall annual betting revenue for 2020/21 was £6.9 billion. Online casinos alone raked in £1.9 billion of that total, reported Bloomberg.
Sports betting still makes up the lion’s share of online revenue, with football betting alone taking 48% of the market. The cancellation of fixtures, however, for months on end during the pandemic, impacted hugely on football revenue and online casinos (particularly slots and bingo) filled the gap in demand, fuelled by a captive audience stuck in their homes with little to do. Significantly, more women than ever before entered the betting market, with online bingo games becoming particularly popular. Betting on esports, still a young part of the industry, is also growing rapidly, and with ever-faster internet connections and higher-resolution smart phones emerging all the time, the UK’s love of betting online looks set to grow and grow.
The decline of betting on Horse Racing
Long before the global shutdown of March 2020, betting on UK horse and greyhound racing was in slow but steady decline, from a £5.7 billion return in 2008/9 to a mere £4 billion in 2019/20. Figures for 2020/21 are clearly deeply affected by the pandemic and should be treated with caution (a mere £2 billion), but changes to punter’s patterns of behaviour will be hard to reverse. Furthermore, issues over animal rights are a perennial problem, with well-publicised documentaries exposing cruelty in horse and greyhound racing far from helping the cause.
On the surface there are sound reasons for optimism. Each year 7 million spectators flock to race meetings, making horse racing second only to football matches in terms of attendance. Indeed, the marquee events of the Sport of Kings continue to grow, with the Cheltenham Festival, Grand National meeting and Royal Ascot all boasting healthy crowd numbers and revenue. Horse racing is clearly still a money-maker, but faces stiff competition from other sports and the young pretender of online casinos and sportsbooks.
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