In 2019 the gambling industry was worth over $14 billion in Great Britain. It is a popular pastime there and comprises many popular activities. These include football, horse racing, bingo, the national lottery and slot machines.
Gamblers in the UK can visit bookmakers or bingo halls. There is Tote betting at the horse tracks and people can also bet on dog racing. If you want to play gaming machines you don’t need to visit a casino as nearly every public house has at least one slot machine like wildspins available.
The UK gambling industry employs nearly 100,000 people across nearly 10,000 locations. Or at least it used to. Traditional gambling has been in slight decline for a while as the online gaming industry takes a bigger share of the market but that is only one reason things have changed.
In 2020, the world saw Covid-19 affect all walks of life in almost every country. Throughout the year countries have imposed restrictions and lockdowns on various regions and sometimes whole countries. Borders remain closed in many places at the time of writing. Restaurants and pubs closed their doors and the high streets emptied. All non essential businesses were ordered to close. Travel in the UK was limited to visiting doctors, hospital and other essential trips such as food shopping. Many towns closed their banks and the Post Office started delivering pensions and state benefits directly to vulnerable customers.
Due to being designated non-essential, casinos, bookmakers, amusement arcades and bingo halls were closed down with many never to open again.
The United Kingdom has been hit extremely hard by Covid and was and still is one of the most affected countries in the world. Travel has been curtailed meaning no tourism and many of those tourists would gamble in casinos during their stay.
Unemployment in the industry
The Rank Group is one of the biggest players in the gambling industry but as their venues were closed indefinitely they had to use the government’s job retention scheme. The company came to the tough decision to let around 90% of its employees go.
Between March when the lockdown first began and September 2020 the amount of people seeking unemployment benefits rose by 120% to 2.7 million.
Bingo has been around for centuries and the general image of a bingo hall is one of mostly elderly ladies possibly with purple rinses playing multiple bingo cards with a speed of mind that seems not to match their physical movements and they are great places for socialising. However they have been in decline for some time.
In 2005 there were about 600 bingo halls but just nine years later there were less than 400. The image of a traditional bingo hall wasn’t attracting enough younger people and the market shrank. In 2009 alone Gala bingo cut 300 jobs. Then Covid came and caused more damage. Buzz Bingo announced the closure of 26 halls due to the lockdown. This has put a further 573 jobs at risk.
Most casinos were allowed to reopen in August 2020 but they can only operate at a limited capacity. Like many other businesses such as restaurants and pubs they can only have a certain number of customers at one time and strict safety measures must be in place including social distancing. This is a far cry from the days of noisy, excited groups gathering around the roulette table cheering on big wins. These days more people are starting to play in a live casino as an option to keep gamblig without travelling.
Although casinos are generally strong businesses it remains to be seen how the long term restrictions and closures will affect them especially with the rise of online casinos.
Just like casinos and other businesses the high street bookies also had to close. Some industry experts believe that the normal customer levels will never return even after all the restrictions are lifted. Many vulnerable people are afraid to travel or interact with other people too much due to Covid and can now bet online. Bookmakers both traditional and online were affected as sporting events were stopped or suspended around the world. Not only was sport betting affected but bookies usually have a number of gaming machines like twin spins and blackjack so income from these was also wiped out.
The closures have also meant smaller, independent shops have been unable to survive and even the big chains have suffered. William Hill closed 119 shops permanently directly due to the pandemic although most of the 300 staff affected have been deployed to different areas of the business.
Racecourses and other sporting events
Arenas, dog track and racecourses were closed and along with them the means to bet on site.
Online gambling and casinos
One area that was affected in a positive way was the online gambling industry. Online Bingo is growing all the time with a much younger market than normally seen in the halls. Sports betting and casino games are becoming more popular.
Obviously Covid had a big effect here as people were bored at home they sought out new forms of entertainment. Regular gamblers logged in for the first time and new players who had never visited a casino before tried their luck online.
Before the pandemic hit the online gaming world was already growing however. Helped by the convenience of playing at home and offers of an online casino bonus when you sign up helped to draw people in.
One aspect of an online casino that can’t be matched in a traditional land based establishment is the sheer variety. An online casino can offer bingo, full sports betting on horses, tennis and football plus the usual casino games such as baccarat and poker. They also let you play some games for free to practice before you spend your cash. Something you won’t get in a traditional casino.
In October 2020 the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson ordered more restrictions across the north of England with betting shops in places like Liverpool once again being ordered to close. Whether these establishments can survive a second wave is highly uncertain and 2020 will go down as the worst year in traditional gambling in the UK just as the online industry reaches new heights.
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