Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 in Wuhan City, China, its rapid spread has transformed lives and behaviour worldwide. COVID-19 is the third major outbreak that the world has experienced in the 21st century, following SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012. However, whilst the previous outbreaks demonstrated the potential seriousness of infectious disease on population health, the novel coronavirus has invoked unprecedented influence on the lives and businesses across the globe.
Like many countries battling the coronavirus pandemic, the United Kingdom (UK) restored lockdowns and social distancing measures to curb the spread of the virus. As a result, the UK economy has taken a dramatic hit, perhaps even more devastating than the global financial crisis of 2008. GDP of the country experienced a fall of 20% in 2020 Q2, which was by far the largest quarterly fall on record.
The sectors most affected in the UK were those where a relatively high proportion of consumer spending involves face-to-face contact (eg accommodation services and land-based gambling industry) and those that were most affected by the restrictions (eg transport).
The impact of COVID-19 on UK casinos
All retail gambling venues in the UK were closed in March 2020. This meant that activities which make 50% of the overall market (excluding lotteries) stopped. Although licensed betting operators were permitted to offer their services in June, it has still been possible for people to purchase lotteries in a retail environment. There has, however, been an impact from fewer consumer shopping journeys.
According to the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC), the lockdown period didn’t attract many new punters to casino gaming. Only 0.4% of all adults surveyed stated that they have started gambling for the first time in May 2020. This compares with 2.1% of adults who have stopped gambling altogether during the same period. Neither of these figures are significantly different from the pre-lockdown period.
The overall active player accounts experienced a further decrease of 1.2% between April and May 2020. The only exception to this was real event betting, where the numbers experienced a surge of 13% between April and May. On the National Lottery, the YouGov data indicated a decline in past-four-week participation in draw-based games from 26% in mid-April to 22% in mid-June.
COVID-19 and the surge in online casino gaming
For those who enjoy being the part of the glitz and glamour of a land-based gambling venue, online casinos may not be their preference. Sure; it’s convenient when it’s not possible for them to travel or when they want to play a few hands of poker at midnight. But during the lockdowns in the UK, online gambling sites were their only option. Even though gambling venues are functioning now, many casual gamblers don’t want to expose themselves to the threat of the virus. So, they prefer playing casino games from the comfort of their homes.
This situation made the UK iGaming sector more competitive than ever before. To assess the state of online gambling in the country, we took a tip from Monster Casino, an online casino that operates in the United Kingdom, and one of their officials commented that they saw a surge in the initial months of the coronavirus pandemic. The official added that the curve went flat later but the business is marginally better than post-COVID-19 times.
Current situation of betting shops in the UK
Betting shops in the UK are highly vulnerable to the coronavirus because they’re enclosed spaces where customers stay for a significant period of time. That’s the view of the Department of Health and Social Care on betting shops in the country.
Currently, over 1,250 betting shops in England and 366 in Wales have been closed to curb the spread of the virus. All the betting shops in Scotland remain open – for now.
Like many other parts of Europe, Britain is experiencing a second wave of the virus. Wales has restored to a national lockdown and England is currently practising a system of local lockdowns. The most severe restrictions have been imposed on high-alert “Tier 3” areas in the country.
Betting shops in the country are traditionally small places that generally don’t have multiple entry points. The nature of these single-lot spaces makes ventilation and the creation of one-way systems challenging. So, to reduce the transmission of the virus, the UK government has announced the closure of betting shops in some areas. And as the situation is not easy to predict, more betting shops can be shuttered in the coming weeks.
The future of betting shops in the UK
These days, a visit to the betting shops - in areas where they’re not closed - involves having your temperature taken and keeping your mask covering on at all times. Add to that the fact that you have to maintain social distancing in these areas, it’s a far cry from the atmosphere of a real betting shop where customers like to spend their time researching bets or watching live sports.
With betting shops in the UK being opened nearly after six months of their closure and operating under limited capacity, the next few months will be crucial for their recovery. UK betting shops can play their role in the national economic recovery, but there are concerns over the return of the usual crowd of gamblers. Overall, given the fact the situation with the coronavirus pandemic is still not properly controlled, it’s not possible to predict a clear outcome.