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Covid-19 and its impact on gambling – what we know so far [Updated July 2020]

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect everyone across Great Britain. The full lockdown period[1] has also brought significant consumer behavioural change and impacts on the gambling industry, but so has easing of the lockdown.

Our responsibility is to protect consumers and we are focused on understanding how the risks posed to them are changing. To help understand these risks and trends, and to inform public knowledge, we are collecting additional data from operators[2] and consumer research[3] – allowing us to build a clearer picture over time.

1.     General consumer trends

Current consumer trends provide important context for analysing the gambling market, in terms of how we feel, the money in our pocket and how we are spending our time.

Research by Savanta reports 25% of the population stating that their mental health has been negatively affected, while loneliness has been an issue for many, with ONS research from 11-14 June indicating 26% of adults felt lonely at least some of the time.

There has also been a significant financial impact, where the Savanta research notes that 40% of people have seen their disposable income decrease.

While spending most of our time in the home, we have also seen changes in the way people engage with news and entertainment. This is particularly so among people who gamble. According to YouGov data up to 18 June, those who had gambled in the past four weeks were more likely than the national average to have done the following in the last two weeks:

  • Spent more money online on entertainment (17% of gamblers compared to 13% of all adults)
  • Watched TV more (50% of gamblers compared to 42% of all adults)
  • Consumed more on-demand entertainment (48% of gamblers compared to 40% of all adults)

2.     Gambling Market Impacts

On 20 March all retail gambling venues closed. This meant that activities which normally generate 50%[4] of the overall market (excluding lotteries) stopped. Although Licensed Betting Operators were the only gambling venues permitted to open (in England) on 15 June, it has still been possible to purchase National Lottery tickets in a retail environment. There has, however, been a decrease in the availability of retail outlets and an impact from fewer consumer shopping journeys.

Operator data collected by the Commission comparing March 2020 with March 2019 provided an initial insight into the changing shape and size of the market. Data from April and May has provided a clearer picture.[5]

a.     Overall, fewer consumers are gambling 

The lockdown period does not appear to have attracted many new consumers to gambling. According to YouGov research from 20-21 May[6], only 0.4% of all adults surveyed stated that they had started gambling for the first time during the last four weeks. This compares with 2.1% of adults who had stopped gambling altogether during this period. Neither of these figures were significantly different from the rates recorded in the early lockdown period.[7]

Operator data on overall active player accounts[8] indicates a further 1.2% decrease between April and May 2020, with the number of active players down across each of the verticals, excluding real event betting, where the number increased by 13% between April and May. This increase in the number of active players for real event betting corresponds to the return of the Bundesliga from 16 May.

The seven waves of the YouGov survey conducted from 16 April to 18 June show past-four-week gambling participation has remained relatively stable, within a range of 28-32%. There has, however, been a notable recovery in sports betting participation, which fell to 1% in wave 9 (6-7 May) but has now risen to 5% in the latest wave (17-18 June). This corresponds with the return of more elite-level sport, including Premier League football.. Betting on virtuals has moved in the opposite direction during the same period, from 3% at the start of the YouGov tracking (when it was likely boosted by the Virtual Grand National), down to 1% in the latest wave.

On the National Lottery, the YouGov data shows a decline in past-four-week participation in draw-based games from 26% in the mid-April survey to 22% in mid-June. Sales have held up reasonably well in these unusual circumstances and participation decline. There was an initial fall, but sales have recovered such that they are currently only slightly down on more normal levels[9]. This is also the result of a change in consumer behaviour where we have seen a significant move from retail to digital product sales.

b.     Lockdown prompted some people, who were gambling already, to try new products 

Our previous analysis of year-on-year data for the number of activities undertaken by online gambling consumers indicates that, over the last year, there was a shift towards a larger number of activities. During May 2020, the picture was similar to the previous month, albeit that there was a slight decrease in the proportion of active players who engaged in more than one activity, down from 43% to 40%. We know from previous studies that engagement across a larger number of activities can correlate to higher levels of moderate-risk and problem gambling. 

active customers by number of verticals

We have also collected data during May on whether play is done in sessions which only feature one vertical (‘single activity’ sessions) or multiple (‘multiple activity’ sessions). Our analysis shows that a 88% of sessions are single activity sessions, which indicates that consumers do not tend to engage in multiple activities within a single session, but are more likely to engage in multiple activities across the month (within separate, individual sessions).   

The lockdown period has also seen changes in repertoire for some – the YouGov research shows that around three in ten (31%) past-four-week gamblers say they have tried one or more gambling activities for the first time during lockdown[10]. This figure rises to almost half (48%) of engaged gamblers[11], with this group being most likely to try online bingo (13%), betting on virtual races or sports (12%), National Lottery online instant wins (11%) and online slots (11%). Among all past-four-week gamblers, the main new activity is National Lottery draw-based games, with 18% claiming to have played National Lottery draws for the first time in the last four weeks.[12] 

The incidence of switching from land-based to online gambling appears relatively low. Only 1.6% of past-four-week gamblers surveyed by YouGov in mid-May said that during that period, they had gambled online on some activities that they used to take part in on premises or in person. Further, only 2% of recent gamblers said they had signed up to one or more gambling websites during this period. 

Online operator data shows that with the exception of real event betting, there has been a fall in the number of active players for each vertical. Although some of the decreases are relatively small in percentage terms, this is not the case for virtuals betting which saw a spike due to the Virtual Grand National in April.

Total number of active players per vertical during March 2019, March 2020, April 2020 and May 2020

 

% y-o-y change March

% change from March 2020 to April 2020

% change from April 2020 to May 2020

Slots

25%

-2%

-5%

Other gaming (incl. casino)

13%

5%

-4%

Betting (Real event)

-11%

-55%

13%

Betting (Virtual)

88%

44%

-48%

Poker

53%

53%

-11%

This shift is against the backdrop of relatively stable advertising awareness, where the YouGov research[13] shows that 34% of adults recalled seeing marketing for online bingo, casino or slots games in the last four weeks. This is comparable with 39% in our pre-lockdown research[14].

c.     Overall, gamblers claim to be playing products at the same rate or less. However, a majority of those who have participated in three or more gambling activities in the last four weeks claim to be spending more time or money on at least one product.

This is reflected in growth in the average number of bets per customer on some products, particularly real event betting through May

Although the number of bets on slots has increased slightly in May, the most noteworthy change is a 60% increase in the number of bets on real event betting, set against a 13% increase in the number of active players which implies a sizeable increase in the number of bets per player during May.  

Total number of bets placed per vertical during March 2019, March 2020, April 2020 and May 2020

 

% y-o-y change March 2019-March 2020

% change from March 2020 to April 2020

% change from April 2020 to May 2020

Slots

16%

15%

3%

Other gaming (incl. casino)

 

3%

25%

-2%

Betting (Real event)

-31%

-66%

60%

Betting (Virtual)

40%

37%

-14%

Poker

38%

70%

-11%

Data indicates that the growth seen in real event betting corresponded with the return of the Bundesliga. As football is a key component of online real event betting, we expect that the return of the Premier League in mid-June will see an acceleration in terms of active players and Gross Gambling Yield (GGY).

The table below shows the changing picture of GGY by vertical, although care should be taken when trying to interpret data involving March 2020 which includes the beginning of the lockdown period but also includes the Cheltenham Festival, which makes analysis of the true picture more difficult.

Even during April, the GGY for real event betting did not decline by the magnitude expected by some at the outset of the lockdown. 

Gross Gambling Yield[15] per vertical during March 2019, March 2020, April 2020 and May 2020

 

% y-o-y change March 2019-March 2020

% change from March 2020 to April 2020

% change from April 2020 to May 2020

Slots

15%

-9%

9%

Other gaming (incl. casino)

-5%

33%

1%

Betting (Real event)

88%

-62%

64%

Betting (Virtual)

37%

41%

-12%

Poker

50%

66%

-9%

GGY growth was not limited to real event betting, with slots being another vertical seeing growth during May. We have previously highlighted our concerns about slots, so will continue to monitor data about the risks they may pose to consumers during the lockdown period.

The combination of all these factors, including reductions in the numbers of active players for most verticals, meant that the average spend (GGY) per consumer increased across all verticals between April and May. 

The chart shows that for each vertical (slots, casino, real event betting, virtual betting and poker) the average spend per active player has increased between April and May, in some cases by a sizeable amount as is the case in particular for slots, real event betting and virtual betting.

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These changes need to be viewed in the context that among all adults surveyed, 8% said they had either decreased the time or money they spend on gambling or had stopped altogether, compared to 3% who said they had increased the time or money they spend or had started gambling for the first time[16].

The YouGov survey also asked past-four-week gamblers whether they had increased the time or money they had spent on individual gambling activities. The majority (73%) indicated that they had not increased the time or money they had spent on any gambling activities.[17]

Percentage of recent gamblers who have increased the time and/or money they have spent on one or more gambling activities 

3% increased time spent gambling 15% increased time and money spent gambling 9% increased money spent gambling 73% no increase in time or money spent gambling

However, the profile is different for engaged[18] gamblers where almost seven in ten (68%) have increased either the amount of time or money they have spent on at least one gambling activity, including National Lottery products. They may have decreased spend on other products to compensate – such as for example real event betting where early in the lockdown there were fewer events to bet on.

In terms of demographics, younger people aged 18-34 are significantly more likely than average to report increases in time or money spent on at least one gambling activity, or to have taken up new activities. 18-34-year-old men and women who have gambled recently are roughly equally likely to have taken up new gambling activities since the lockdown started. Increases in money or time spent on one or more products are particularly associated with young men, although young women also over-index compared to the average.

d.     And we have seen a slight decrease in the number of sessions over an hour. 

Between April and May 2020, the average session length reported by operators has once again not changed. Within that, however, the number of sessions which lasted more than one hour decreased slightly to 2,085,023, set against an increase in the overall number of sessions. This means that the proportion of sessions lasting in excess of one hour has fallen slightly during May.


[1] From 16 March to 15 June

[2] From the biggest operators, covering approximately 80% of the online gambling market under the Gambling Act, noting that it may include some duplication of customer numbers where it is not possible to identify unique customers

[3] As part of our regular research programme, we publish a range of official statistics on consumer gambling participation and the prevalence of problem gambling. Official statistics are published on a quarterly basis from our telephone survey, via an annual gambling behaviour report and via Health Surveys approximately every two years.  These official statistics remain our most robust and trusted sources of gambling participation and problem gambling data.

However, the pre-defined timings of the surveys that contribute to our official statistics have not allowed us to provide regular reports on the impact of Covid-19 during the lockdown period.

Therefore, in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, The Gambling Commission commissioned questions on YouGov’s Covid-19 tracker, a weekly online survey of around 2,000 adults in Great Britain, which has enabled us to monitor key metrics including:

  • Changes in gambling participation
  • How many people are taking up gambling activities for the first time
  • How many people are increasing the time or money they spend on gambling
  • Awareness of marketing for different types of gambling

The YouGov data is not being published as official statistics but provides the Commission with a flexible way to add to our consumer evidence base via a weekly nationally representative survey.  For more information on the methodology of the Covid-19 tracker please see the YouGov data tables.

[4] *Gambling Commission Industry Statistics

[5] It should be noted that:

  • The first half of March (pre-lockdown) featured Cheltenham, a major event in the horse racing calendar, as well other sporting events, which have a major impact on the results of the data. March’s active customer data therefore does not provide a full picture of the impact Covid-19 has had on the market.
  • It is also worth considering that while we expect products to experience some organic growth year on year (y-o-y), the increases we have seen from the data in certain products goes above and beyond what can be considered as organic y-o-y growth

[6] YouGov Covid-19 Tracker

[7] In the YouGov research conducted from 16-17 April, 0.2% of respondents had started gambling for the first time, and 1.8% said they had stopped gambling altogether in the last four weeks

[8] Players who have placed one or more bet / spin during the month

[9] The National Lottery operator Camelot release sales figures monthly in line with publication timescales

[10] In the first wave (16-17 April) the last four weeks could include a short period pre-lockdown, but we do not think this point impacts the finding significantly. For clarity this also includes NL products.

[11] By the engaged here we mean those who have participated in three or more gambling activities in the last four weeks (n=248). 

[12] We suspect this figure may be inflated by respondents who played online for the first time, or tried out a particular National Lottery game, in addition to those who are completely new to the category’

[13] YouGov Covid-19 Tracker

[14] From Populus online tracker March 2020

[15] This should not be directly compared to GGY published in our Industry Statistics because this data is taken from a sample of approximately 80% of the online market.

[16] YouGov Covid-19 Tracker, wave 11 (20-21 May) (n=2092)

[17] YouGov Covid-19 Tracker

[18] By the engaged here we mean those who have participated in three or more gambling activities in the last four weeks, but not for the first time (n=230).