Online gaming has, over the last two decades, become a mainstay of life in the UK. The UK is Europe’s second largest market for video games after Germany, and fifth largest in the world, valued at £5.7 billion in 2018, including over £2 billion spent by consumers on digital and online games. By 2009, the profits of the video game industry had overtaken the profits of the film industry, and with a number of major game franchise developers based in the UK, the UK is the third largest producer of video games in the world after Japan and the USA.

In 2014 the UK government introduced tax relief to support the UK games industry and saw increased investment in the industry. This, coupled with advances in technology, has grown the industry in the UK exponentially over the last few years. The gambling industry has also taken advantage of the growth of the gaming industry to cater for all tastes, attracting non-gamblers with their entertaining and engaging games, and hard-core gamblers by creating an immersive environment, using the advances in technology to adapt their approach to increase their appeal to all demographics.

2020 has been an unprecedented year for many reasons, and the online gaming industry has been given a wealth of opportunities to expand to cater for the changes seen in peoples’ daily lives. The novel coronavirus pandemic sent the UK into lockdown at the end of March 2020 and, with a large number of non-essential workers furloughed, shops and entertainments venues shut, and people unable to meet friends and family in person, the online gaming industry saw a massive boost.

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On average, gamers dedicated 13 hours of their day to online gaming. Gaming of all types has been used as a way for people to relax, to connect virtually with friends and family, to while away the time, and for some even a way to make money. Casual gamers with more time on their hands have been able to dedicate more time to gaming, and hard-core gamers have been given an unprecedented opportunity to really push the boat out and live, eat and breathe gaming.

UK gambling market

Made legal under the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 and brought into the digital age by the Gambling Act of 2005, gambling is now more accessible than ever in the UK, both on land (i.e. physical bricks-and-mortar locations) and online. The UK has a strong history of gambling, with betting on horses dating back many centuries, and the introduction of Bingo Halls following the Second World War. The Gaming Act of 1968 liberated the law and paved the way for land Casinos, many of which are still present today, and the last 15 years have seen plans to create super casinos, Vegas-style resorts, throughout the UK. However, to keep up with technological developments, many land Casinos have also invested in an online presence, and many operators entering the market today are online-only.

Lockdown closed all non-essential businesses, including land casinos, and all competitive sports leagues were cancelled. This combination forces gamblers to seek an alternative to land casino gambling as well as all sports betting. Those wanting to get their fix in the absence of sports betting turned to online casinos. Thus, with all betting migrating online, there was a massive increase in searches for online casinos. Between February 2020 and April 2020, there was a 78% increase in the volume of searches for ‘Best Casino Sites’. In particular, online roulette games were a popular choice, with many players getting the satisfaction from a live roulette wheel and dealer online helping with the absence of land-based casinos.

2020’s popularity of online casino games in particular is due in part to the closure of land casinos, coupled with people having more time at home, unable to socialise with friends, and for some, the need to make money as incomes have been hit by the pandemic. They are also popular with casual gamers who want to dip their toe into the gambling scene, as they do not require skill or a huge investment, with bets starting from mere pennies, and players can download an app and drop in and out as they feel like. The chat function also increases sociability and engagement, reaching a new demographic when compared to land casinos.

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It is estimated by the end of the year that online gambling will make up 16.5% of the gambling market worldwide, which is mirrored in the UK market. Prior to Covid-19, this estimate was just 13%. There has been a general reduction in the revenues brought in by gambling, but the revenue from online gambling has increased.

Second lockdown opportunities and post-lockdown challenges

The prospect of a second lockdown provides a host of new opportunities for the iGaming industry to continue to grow and attract new players. A study between Brits showed that an average adult will spend the equivalent of 34 years looking at screens, divided between phones, laptops, tablets and televisions, with gaming equipment’s contributing to more than 13 hours a day. This numbers are proof that gaming is becoming an entertainment form and its social nature keeps attracting more players, especially when restrictions are in place.

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There will be also challenges faced by the industry post-lockdown, in particular around how to retain players online when they are allowed to visit land-based gaming spots or how to return sports wagers who have temporarily moved to other games. The industry will need to dig deep to invest in new games, loyalty schemes and advertising to ensure it keeps pace in a post-lockdown environment.

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