At the height of the Covid-19 led lockdown there was pretty much no professional sporting activity anywhere on the planet – apart from in darts, which has this week been dragged through the ringer amid a match fixing scandal that took place during that quiet period.
They were tough times for the bookmakers then, however the return of football and horse racing in June – amongst other things – has led to a significant recovery.
The UK Gambling Commission released a huge data set this week that reveals that gross gambling yield (GGY) taken by the sportsbooks totalled £217.5 million in June – more than double that taken in May (£101.2 million). Those were the profits attributed to the UK’s biggest operators, i.e. the leading brands that make up around 80% of the market, in ‘real time’ sports betting.
And that increase in sports betting revenue actually revealed where punters were wagering during lockdown, with online slots (9.6%), casino games (12%), virtual sports (15.2%) and eSports (24.1%) all showing significant declines in June.
And surprisingly it was online poker which saw the biggest monthly decline, with revenue falling by 36.3% from May to June and the number of active players being cut by some 25%.
Passing the Time
There were concerns that the coronavirus pandemic would lead to a raft of problem gambling behaviours being exhibited by vulnerable punters up and down the land, and it will be interesting to see any data on that when it is released.
One of the things that emerged from the UK Gambling Commission’s data is how long some bettors were playing casino games for.
The average gaming session declined across the board, with the number of slot gaming sprees of one hour or more down by 5% and with 5.2% fewer bets reported. The average poker game down by a whole minute in June too.
This was the first time that the average overall gambling session time had decreased since March – of course, the start of the lockdown.
The Commission had urged bookmakers to keep a close watch on their customers and flag up any signs of early problem behaviour, and the UKGC found that ‘customer interactions’ were up 12% during the period.
On-Course Bookies Plot Ring Return
The next set of trials for the return of spectators to live sports events have been unveiled by the UK government, and as far as horse racing is concerned that will involve a two-week pilot scheme that has already begun.
Racegoers are not permitted to attend the meetings at Beverly, Fontwell and Kempton, but on-course bookies have been invited along to offer odds to owners at each venue. The first day of the Ebor Festival at York has also been selected for the pilot.
Crucially, they will be allowed to take cash payments, which was thought to be the major stumbling block to their return before as only contactless card payments were set to be permitted. That caused outrage among odds-makers, who cited technical difficulties and delays in debit card transactions when compared to cash payments.
The bookies will be wearing PPE at all times, and they have to book their slot in advance via the Administration of Gambling on Tracks (AGT).
The hope is that if no new spikes in Covid-19 occur, and that more race meetings across the UK will not only allow bookmakers on the premises but also a smattering of punters too.
Christopher Hudson, spokesperson for the British Racecourse Bookmakers Association, said: “We’re very pleased at this positive move. It gives some hope to long-suffering bookmakers who haven’t had any work for months. We’re also thrilled that cash will be permitted for bets.”
Racegoers Set for August Return?When the government pulled the plug on the return of spectators at Glorious Goodwood, it caused a huge headache for the sport – when would the next opportunity arise to get punters back on the course?
The answer, perhaps, could be late August, with the Racecourse Association awaiting approval from ministers over a number of proposed dates.
If those trials go well, more substantial crowds may be allowed to gather at the St Leger meeting at Doncaster and Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire festival, both of which are scheduled for September.
Meanwhile, north of the border Musselburgh racecourse has asked the Scottish government for permission to allow 600 people to attend their next meeting on August 26, and they are awaiting the outcome of the ministers’ decision.