November 28, 2022
On publication of its latest Industry Statistics, the Commission reflects on the shape and size of the gambling industry in Great Britain, including the impact of macro trends on gambling behaviours and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trends in participation and spend on gambling
During the pandemic, GGY relating to products under the Gambling Act 2005 fell by around 16% for the year to March 2021. The pandemic also made the difference between the number of men and women gambling much smaller: female gambling participation maintained its level while male participation dropped. In 2021, certain activities were more popular amongst females than males, including society lotteries, scratch cards, fruit and slot machines in arcades and the National Lottery instant win games. The rate of gambling by the 25- to 34-year-old group decreased significantly to levels seen amongst other age groups.
Since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in 2021, the overall percentage of the adult population who gamble remains lower than it was pre Covid-19 (28%). However, there are signs of a return to gambling amongst younger age groups aged 16 to 24 and amongst males gambling in retail. Industry GGY in 2021-22 for products under the Gambling Act 2005 is just 2% below what it was pre-pandemic (2019-20).
The move towards online gambling
This has been a gradual and consistent trend which continued through the pandemic. However, spend appears to have increased more quickly than the increase in consumers.
In September 2022, data from the Commission’s quarterly telephone survey saw the proportion of adults gambling online (18%) equal the proportion of people gambling in person (18%). Despite the increase, the online gambling participation rate has not yet reached the level of in person participation before the pandemic, which was 24.4% in 2019.
The pandemic period saw a shift from retail to online play for the National Lottery. But for products under the Gambling Act 2005, the trend of a long-term gradual increase in online participation, rather than a spike, continued. The increase seen during the period was also driven mainly by women rather than men, from 13.2% in September 2019 to 17.2% in September 2022. Male participation has been static for the last four years.
Likewise, there has been an increase in the share of GGY generated from online gambling, from 42% of GGY in 2015-16 compared to 61% in 2021-22 (excluding the National Lottery). In terms of product, there has been significant growth in the GGY generated by online slots over the same period from nearly £1.6 billion in 2015-16 to nearly £3.0 billion in 2021-22. The rate of increase in spend has always been higher than that of participation.
The popularity of retail gambling
Despite the increase in online gambling, retail remains a significant part of the sector and is showing signs of recovery following the pandemic. Two of the most popular gambling activities in 2007 were horse racing (in person, 17% of UK adults) and slot machines (at venues, 14% of UK adults).
The level of retail gambling GGY has also decreased. Retail betting and bingo saw decreases in GGY of 36% and 44% respectively between 2015-16 and 2021-22. However, retail is still a significant contributor to the level of gambling activity, retail betting on its own accounted for 20% of the total GGY in 2021-22 (excluding the National Lottery).
Additionally, in person participation in gambling has increased in September 2022 compared to September 2021, particularly amongst males and younger adults up to the age of 24 years old.
Online gambling as a digital sector
Rather than the clear distinction of a retail premises, gambling, and in particular online, is now just another digital sector, the Commission says.
Part of the change is driven by a consumer expectation of frictionless play that matches experience in other sectors, which is shown most clearly in the move to mobile. Ofcom data shows that adult internet users in the UK spend four hours online per day, with three of those hours spent on smartphones. Data from the Commission’s online tracker survey in 2021 shows that 60% of online gamblers have used a mobile phone to gamble on.
Digital developments have also transformed the way in which operators engage with consumers, whether that is as a brand or as how they apply marketing, in a personal, targeted way. This is becoming more refined and increasingly data-powered every year. Nearly half of Great British consumers surveyed stated they would like it if recommendations were better tailored to what they like and are interested in.
Problem gambling and gambling harms
Significant numbers of people continue to encounter issues with their gambling, the Commission says.
The Commission notes that some people are more likely to experience harm than others, including those who engage in multiple activities, men, those with probable mental health issues and players with the highest gambling expenditure. Whilst adults may be in a vulnerable situation at any age, young adults may be additionally vulnerable due to a combination of biological, situational and environmental factors. To read the Commission’s reflections in full and for a link to the Industry Statistics, click here.