According to a study by the University of Bristol, published in the Journal of Gambling Studies in May 2021: “Regular gamblers were more than six times more likely to gamble online during lockdown than they were before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.”

Overall, however, gambling decreased, with retail casinos and betting shops being forced to close their doors. Those who would have spent money at these establishments moved online instead or gambled online more than they were doing initially.

Other studies have shown that there was also a notable increase in first-time online gamblers, although this was not as greatas anticipated. The Bristol study showed that those that gambled occasionally were more than twice as likely to do so during the pandemic. These findings are supported by the YouGov Covid-19 Tracker, which also showed regular gamblers turning to online options during lockdown, and the increased revenue enjoyed by the UK’s biggest gambling operators.

Why the shift?

There are obvious reasons why people might turn to online blackjack, slots or bingo during a pandemic. People were suddenly forced to spend a lot more time at home, either working remotely or with more free time on their hands. In both cases this meant that more of their activities were mediated through their screens, and social interactions were suddenly dominated by online resources like Facebook, Twitter and Zoom.

In this environment, the wide range of betting options and games offered by Scoop Six and other popular online gambling sites offered a welcome distraction and a relief from boredom and anxiety. As mentioned above, the closure of high street casinos and betting shops meant that existinggamblers could only bet online. Another important factor was the cancellation of major sporting events, which led to many more people betting on virtual sports and esports.

Increased activity

In the UK, the number of people saying that they had bet on esports grew from 6% in 2019 to 9% in 2020. Although esports betting is still a relatively niche activity, this shows an increase of 50% in the number of participants year on year. The UK Gambling Commission further reported that betting on online slots increased by 25% in March 2020 compared to March 2019. Over the same period, betting on other online games was up 13%, and online poker was up 44%, while virtual sports betting increased by 88%.

62% of long-term gamblers spent either more time or more money on the activity in 2020 compared to 2019, but only 25% of recent gamblers said that the amount or time of money they committed increased. Worldwide, the online gambling market grew from $58.9bn in 2019 to $64.13bn in 2020, with online being the major driver of that growth.

Looking ahead

The overall gambling market is expected to grow significantly over the next few years, as retail operators resume business and adjust to the new normal. The growth in online gambling is not expected to slow as lockdowns recede however, and as in other areas the pandemic may just have accelerated already existing trends. As governments look for ways to make up the shortfall caused by coping with the virus, we may see increased legalization of online gambling, along with the attendant taxation. Meanwhile, online gaming remains an increasingly popular pastime.

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