The UK Gambling Commission’s twice-yearly reports are always keenly anticipated by key figures in the industry. And, in all honesty, who could possibly blame these leading figures after the latest statistics released on November 30, 2017 revealed that the sector recorded another excellent year of growth.
Revenue amassed by the market totalled £13.7bn in the period from April 2016 to March 2017, which is an increase year-on-year of 1.8%. Despite some predictions of doom and gloom amid a landscape of ever-tightening regulations, the outlook is positive for an industry rarely out of the news in the past six months or so.
There are some negatives, however. The number of people employed by the UK gambling industry has decreased by 1% from March 2016 to just over 100,000, with the number of betting shops on the high street dropping by 3.9% from March 2017. The UK Gambling Commission’s executive director, Tim Miller, commented:
"These latest figures show that the gambling market is continuing to grow, particularly in the online sector. However, with such growth comes a great responsibility for operators to prevent gambling-related harm to all consumers and the public. We would urge all gambling businesses to be acutely aware that as their market grows so too will our focus on ensuring that consumers are protected."
Of all the figures released by the UKGC as part of its annual findings, it is perhaps the continued rise of online betting that really catches the eye. Compared to a year earlier, the April 2016 to March 2017 figures show a hefty 10.1% increase in revenue accumulated by online gambling sites; an actual monetary rise to £4.7bn.
Online is now gambling’s leading marketplace, with 34% of all bets placed via desktop and mobile devices. The report breaks the gambling industry into seven distinct sectors: online, ‘betting’ (in shops and at racecourses/dog tracks), lottery, casino, bingo, arcade and large society lotteries.
Other than online, only betting in physical premises and in casinos showed minimal growth, with a downturn in lottery and bingo. With the number of online operators offering bingo games on the rise, it is no surprise to note that the number of high street bingo premises in the UK has dwindled to just 583 (down by 1.4%).
This is matched by a decrease in the number of licensed arcade premises, down by 5.1% from March 2017 to 1,750. And it’s clear that a rise in the cost of tickets has negatively impacted upon the National Lottery, once a massive draw for UK players but now faces a reduced pool thanks to changes in betting policies.
Contributions to good causes dropped by 16.9%, which comes as a consequence of both ticket sales falling and the rise of third-party lottery operators, who offer punters a typically cheaper alternative to purchasing tickets in the traditional manner. The outlook for these cornerstones of betting in the UK may be concerning, but few can be surprised that the online revolution continues to gather pace.
The figures speak volumes: the UK gambling industry will continue to head in an online-focused direction in the next couple of years. That brings with it opportunities and threats. It is intriguing to see that the Point of Consumption (POC) Tax, introduced in 2014, seems to have had minimal impact upon betting sites.
This regulation imposed a 15% tax on revenues generated by casinos based overseas but earning their revenue in the UK – there are countless examples of bookmakers and online casinos who are headquartered in Gibraltar and similar tax havens. But with the demand for their online products and services increasing, there’s been very little impact on the digital activities of many of the industry’s key players.
The physical and online marketplaces are converging, and that is perhaps reflected in the figures released by the UK Gambling Commission. Most bookmaking firms are looking to aid the transition of their customers into the digital sphere, and that is why the likes of Coral and Paddy Power/Betfair have released their Connect cards, which allow punters on the high street to deposit and withdraw funds.
That’s a trend we can expect to continue in increasingly ingenious ways. Social media is the next frontier for online gambling, particularly with sports betting sites. The popular #RequestABet style hashtags on Twitter will continue to gain traction as these can be added easily straight to the betslip – breaking down the barriers of bet placement for this ‘everything now’ generation.