Since top-flight football returned with the German Bundesliga in mid-may and the Premier League in June, the UK Gambling Commission has reported a significant increase in online sports betting activity, triggering new concerns.
Gambling regulation has been an active issue in recent years, with legislation passed shortly after the new year putting new controls on both retail and online betting operators. This began with a sweeping ban on credit card deposits with online bookmakers and casinos, and continued with a reduction in the stake limit in retail betting shops from £100 to £2. Strict regulation of bookmaker advertisements during COVID-19 put a further squeeze on the industry badly hit by the near universal postponement of all sports competitions.
As expected, online gambling activity migrated from sports betting to casino during the worst months of the pandemic. Between May and June, however, the return of popular football leagues saw the number of bets increase by 146%, reflecting 255.5 million bets placed. The number of active players rose by 81% compared to April’s figures, and the gross gaming yield totalled at £217.5m. It is speculated that packed match schedules facilitated this sharp increase on top of the latent desire to bet.
With such a surge in sports betting other sectors in the gambling industry saw a complimentary fall. ESports betting fell dramatically, and the moment football resumed online poker dropped by 36%. A 10-15% decrease in online casino gaming was also seen, but even the highest gross yield figures cannot be compared to current revenues from football.
The Gambling Commission’s report has given fresh wind to legislators to push further regulations. Critics claim the report is misrepresentative and alarmist, maintaining that this spike should be considered alongside the dramatic decrease in retail betting that has remained to present. Nonetheless the UKGC has informed operators that requirements for player protection protocols will be raised in the future, and responsible gaming will be an even greater priority in the coming years.