For many people worldwide, gambling and sports betting are a simple way of spending their leisure time. However, in the UK, gambling and sports betting has become a multi-billion-pound industry.
The UK is the world's leader in online gambling. During the seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic, the only thing left standing in the way in the future of gambling and sports betting in the UK are its regulators.
The Sports Wagering and Gaming Industry in the UK
According to The Guardian, revenue from internet-based casinos rose by about £1 billion between 2016 and March 2020, to just over £3 billion.
The Gambling Act 2005, landmark legislation that sought to reform the gambling industry, established the UK's Gambling Commission (GC). In a biannual report published in November 2020, the GC showed a £5.7 billion Gross Gambling Yield (GGY) from the remote betting, bingo, and casino sector, between April 2019-March 2020, an 8.1% increase from the previous year.
Online gambling was reported to be the largest sector of the UK's gambling industry, with about 40% of the total market share. Casino games (mostly slots) made up £3.2 billion, whereas sports betting, led by football and horse racing, comprised £2.3 billion.
Of course, those were numbers from before the restrictions put into place in the UK between March-June 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Irish Times reported that the British Horseracing Authority likely experienced a £250 million loss in revenue due to those restrictions.
However, Esports betting in live virtual tournaments saw a global rise in popularity in 2020 as regular sports betting was essentially halted.
Another facet that could further dent into the UK's gambling industry would be a ban on sports sponsorship by gambling and sports betting companies. This is only the tip of the iceberg in the regulatory sea change that could potentially serve as a short-term anchor for the UK's gambling industry.
UK Sports Betting Regulatory Landscape
At the end of 2020, the UK Parliament began a review of the Gambling Act 2005 to administer regulatory policies associated with the digital age. A previous review, in 2016, eventually led to a proposed reduction in the maximum bet allowed on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2 in the years that followed.
By February 2020, even the GC's COVID-19 restrictions have greatly impacted their financing suggestion to cap max bets for FOBTs at £2 caused a massive drop in gambling companies' stock market value of £500 million.
During their current review, the GC has also sought to restrict age limits, bolster identity checks, ban the use of credit cards for gambling, and require online companies to be associated with GAMSTOP, a way of allowing users to self-impose controls over their gambling habits.
The BBC reported on "problem gamblers" associated with Kindred Group, an online gambling company headquartered in Malta with operations in the UK. Overall, the nine brands of Kindred Group had earned about 4% of their revenue from customers who were likely to be identified as harmful bettors.
Kindred Group said they wanted to drop that rate to zero percent by 2023. However, their general manager in the UK is opposed to a ban on advertising from gambling and sports betting companies, calling the move a "negative step." He claimed that a ban on funding through gambling sponsorships would be detrimental to UK football leagues at a time when COVID-19 restrictions have dramatically impacted their financing.
Affordability checks have also been considered by the GC, where gamblers might potentially need to prove they can afford to lose £100 per month. Otherwise, they won't be able to make a deposit. "In-play" betting may come under the scope of the GC, as well, further tightening the restrictions on online sports betting.
Offshore betting in the U.S. is just as likely to experience a period of transformational growth in 2021, as more states are expected to legalize some form of online gambling and sports betting. In that regard, Morgan Stanely praised the potential stock value of Flutter Entertainment, a bookmaking holding company made up of the UK's top gambling firms, as it seeks to expand internationally in the face of a heavy regulatory environment in the UK.
Tax Policies for Betting
UK betting tax policy allows gamblers to keep all of their winnings. Only operators are responsible for paying taxes on their earnings. The betting tax was abolished for consumers back in 2001.
Gambling operators in the UK are responsible for paying 15% of their profits as taxes. (So that might affect the odds when you play.) Any offshore companies with operations in the UK are legally required to be licensed by the government there, in addition to the 15% levy.
The review of the Gambling Act 2005 also reported yearly revenue of £3 billion from taxes on the gambling industry. The industry is responsible for employing around 100,000 people, 10% of whom are employed in the remote casino, bingo, and betting sector.
More detailed information on gambling duties can be found here.
The Rise of Betting During Lockdown
While there had been an increase in gambling and sports betting in the UK before COVID-19, sports' cancellation turned the industry upside down. However, there was a rise in online betting during the lockdown.
As the first lockdown took place in March, betting, and gaming companies were seeing their brick-and-mortar establishments facing restrictions and closures. On the other hand, online betting and gaming fared well. Still, a reduction in sports betting wasn't fully offset by online gambling alone.
During the lockdown, Deloitte reported that 12% of gamblers increased their spending on gambling while 25% decreased their spending in the same period. Fifty-nine percent reported no change to their spending habits on gambling during the lockdown. Approximately 70% of gamblers said there had been no change in what they'd spent on gambling since before the first lockdown.
A concern during the second lockdown was that an increase in gambling among UK citizens might be used as a way of making up for lost income or earning extra money.
According to the GC report, nearly half of gamblers claimed that an increase in their gambling habits was due to having extra free time. Thirty-nine percent said they were bored, while 25% said they were feeling low or unhappy due to the most important goals for reviewing their increase in spending money on gambling during a lockdown.
Only 7% of respondents said they would be increasing their spending habits on online gambling, whereas 30% would probably be decreasing their spending between July-September 2020.
Additional statistics from the GC tell another story. An increase of 25% was reported among participants using online slots, while there was a 38% increase of people playing online poker games during the first two months of COVID-19.
According to Wired magazine, March 2020 saw an 88% increase in online sports betting and a 53% increase in online poker in the UK when compared to the same month in 2019.
Overall, casino businesses were left facing closures (shutting down 21% of their workforce on average) as the online gaming industry began dealing with a new regulatory environment in December. Although sports in the UK have returned in recent months, the post-pandemic economic recovery is just barely underway.
The Future of the UK Sports Betting and Gaming Industry
One of the biggest goals for the Gambling Commission's review of the 2005 gambling law is to protect vulnerable consumers from unhealthy gambling habits. As online gambling rose during the UK's lockdown, there was also a reportedly drastic increase in gambling addicts reaching out for help.
So, the future of the UK sports betting and gaming industry lies in government regulators' hands. Their evidence is due in March, when a final summary of the Gambling Commission's review will be addressed. A parliamentary overhaul is going to define the future of sports betting in the UK. This regulatory oversight will dutifully include mobile betting.
The GC will also be looking to prevent black market initiatives from taking place to respond to their new regulations. Additionally, some gaming and sports betting companies that have been barely hanging on throughout the COVID-19 pandemic might be impacted by new regulations, more so than other larger companies.
Expanding their operations might even be necessary for larger online gambling institutions that operate in jurisdictions outside of the UK. However, they'll still be required by law to be licensed and pay taxes in the UK to do business there, no matter where they're located.
With the UK regulatory review just about finished, some companies might be looking to the U.S. for new opportunities, as states there are only beginning to open up the possibilities for online gambling and sports betting on growing and thriving.
In the wake of Brexit, the gambling and sports betting industry in the UK faces a complete and total overhaul. After a once-in-a-hundred-year pandemic. And a third national lockdown was announced in early January 2021 due to a new COVID-19 variant. (As of this writing, the UK reported their lowest daily increase of COVID-19 infections since Oct. 2, while their daily death-rate had its lowest growth since Dec. 26. Just over 15 million UK citizens have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine so far.)
Outside of the Premier League, football in the UK and Europe is still being uprooted early in 2021. Online gambling remains widely available.
In the long term, things will eventually get back to what they were before COVID-19, as vaccines are rolled out and administered globally over the next year or two. Or more.
As ever, that seems like a long way off.