UKGC Issues December Gambling Figures

The Gambling Commission has published figures detailing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on rates of gambling in the UK during the latter part of last year. The data measures participation in online and offline gambling between March and December 2020. According to the regulator, online gambling sites experienced a steady rise in user activity.

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The Gambling Commission has been recording data on gambling behaviors throughout the pandemic. ©Lukas/Pexels

Gambling in Lockdown

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, there have been warnings that the lockdowns could have a negative impact on how safely people gamble. The end of the last year saw a number of lockdowns come into force, in an attempt to make socializing at Christmas possible. The latest data from the Gambling Commission records the impact that those lockdowns and the coronavirus pandemic in general actually had.

Fresh data shows how gambling behavior in the UK was affected between March and December last year. The first lockdown came in on March 23rd, and since then the UK has been in and out of lockdown with social distancing and safety measures in place. The UK is currently in its third lockdown, although the prime minister has now set out a provisional exit plan.

The latest data focuses on information provided by online and offline gambling operators for last December. During that month, all land-based gambling premises were closed to the public. While it has been a difficult period for high-street betting shops and casinos, the online sector has fared better. December is traditionally a busy time for online gambling businesses, and last year proved much the same.

December saw a month on month increase of 6% in active accounts. Online betting was up 12% and gross gambling yield grew by 30%. This large growth was due in part to an increased number pf players participating in games like slots and strong performances for operators in real event betting. Gross gambling yield for online slots went up by 13% to almost £200 million, while the number of bets increased by 12% to nearly 6 billion. The number of active accounts was also up by 6%, at nearly 3 million.

These are some of the highest figures recorded during the coronavirus pandemic. Although the period leading up until Christmas has often been an important one for gambling operators, it has been a cause for concern. The new data also shows that longer online casino sessions were recorded during this time frame. Online slot sessions lasting more than an hour increased by 11%, going up to 2.5 million during November and December.

However, whilst there were more long sessions recorded than in previous months, the average length of sessions actually decreased to 21.5 minutes. Approximately 8% of all online sessions extended beyond an hour in length. In response to the data, the Gambling Commission has requested that operators be extra vigilant for the remainder of the lockdown and the rest of the pandemic.

Online Growth

The regulator explained that a higher level of care is necessary due to the increased number of people spending long periods of time at home and online. Many workers have been furloughed, are working from home or have lost their means of employment. These stresses, coupled with other changes such as home schooling, loneliness and personal finances, have impacted the mental wellbeing of many people.

During difficult times, some consumers will turn to games like online slots for comfort and something to do. As there are restrictions on many other activities that people would turn to for stress relief, it is likely that those who gamble may spend more time doing so and spend more money on it. Others have gambled for the first time during the lockdown.

The Gambling Commission recently wrote to operators to remind them of pandemic guidance first created in May. Operators are expected to the continue to follow strengthened guidance to ensure the safety of consumers. This includes being aware of customer behaviors and interacting directly when certain triggers are reached. The pandemic should not be exploited as a marketing ploy. New customers must also be subject to rigorous affordability checks.

Writing to operators, Gambling Commission CEO, Neil McArthur was clear about what the regulator expects from the industry. In turn, the Commission will continue to carry out its duties in tracking the risk of gambling harms during the pandemic. It will continue to monitor data on a monthly basis and will support the land-based sector when it is allowed to open to the public again. McArthur stated:

“The gambling industry and daily life as a whole continues to be impacted by the pandemic and whilst there is some light and hope ahead with the vaccine, I want to ensure operators are clear of our expectations. Since March we have all adapted to new ways of working and this new phase will be a challenge for us all. However, operators must now more than ever, continue to be vigilant to protect their customers.”

In February, the Gambling Commission unveiled fresh restrictions designed to make gambling safer for consumers. The new rules, which will come into place at the end of October, mean that operators must change the most addictive features of their online slots. This includes slowing down spin speeds, clearly displaying player wins and losses and an outright ban on celebrating losses as wins.

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