Different areas of the gambling and betting industry had reacted differently towards the pandemic. For example, areas like live sports betting plummeted while major sports leagues and tournament matches were postponed or cancelled, while other areas such as online poker actually experienced a lockdown bounce. Not in all instances, were punters switching between the types of games they play and areas of gambling and betting with which they engage.
Punters most interested in live sports betting, or events betting, actually withdrew a lot of their planned bets and wagers, such that a lot of money had stayed in their pockets; a lot of this money came back in wagers and bets when events betting opened back up following the resumption of major sports leagues and international tournaments.
Online poker, however, actually saw a peak during the pandemic, with a large increase in active users as well as gross gambling yield during the first lockdown of the pandemic in the UK. This peak had occurred in April 2020 when, as reported by UK bookmaker comparison site Find Betting Sites, the online poker operators experienced 626 thousand active players, which generated a gross gambling yield of 20 million GBP.
The main driver of this peak in gross gambling yield, and the hundreds of thousands of concurrent players was that, in the UK, the first lockdown hit hard. The lockdown restrictions only permitted individuals to go outside once a day for some exercise as well as shopping for food and medicine, otherwise, individuals had to stay indoors. Alongside the government policy which subsidized workers’ wages, making sure they still remained and employed and maintained an income led to a lot of people sat at home with a lot of money, without as much work or leisure activities to spend their time and money on, as such, they resulted to online poker, alongside other activities.
The evidence shows that this jump in online poker activity was quite short-lived. As the first lockdown was lifted in the following June, and the restrictions on movement and leisure had been getting taken down, the players started disappearing.
Even though the UK had a second and third large-scale lockdown where, again, gyms were closed and there were tight restrictions on movement or even getting out of the house, the players did not return. For example, during the 2021 lockdown, the players had not returned to the same extent that we had seen during the first lockdown – the May 2021 gross gambling yield was only 7.3 million GBP, much less than the figure at around the same time last year in April.
Online poker operators clearly did not the tools and capabilities to make sure their new customers from the first lockdown became recurring customers. On the one hand, some individual operators like Tonybet may have gained from the pandemic and, surely, many profits were made regardless, however, individuals, although maybe they have still been playing other gambling and betting games, were clearly not interested in online poker and had differently adapted their lockdown lifestyle.
Will these punters return?
The May 2021 gross gambling yield of 7.3 million GBP is actually 0.7 million GBP lower than the Gambling Commissions’ March 2019 benchmark data, so the online poker side of the gambling and betting industry is actually arguably underperforming. Whatever may be the reason for the unlikability of the service and games by the consumers has to be fixed, otherwise the surge in users during the pandemic will only remain a temporary blip on the gambling and betting industry, without any long-term effects on profits and user numbers.