Coronavirus hastens shift to online casino gaming

The coronavirus has affected many industries, with most faring worse due to lockdown. Online casinos, though, have seen an uptick in how many customers are using them. Stuck at home, with a lack of traditional sports events to gamble on, players have turned to online casinos for entertainment and distraction.

While not many new customers have been attracted to gaming, YouGov reports that active accounts are down 3% compared to a similar time last year, people who would usually turn to real-world betting and land based casinos are going online. That same YouGov poll showed that usual gamblers have been trying new products during lockdown. Operator data backs this up. Slots has seen a surge in popularity, with a 25% increase in the number of bets compared to this time last year. Other online casino games have risen 3%, while poker may be the biggest winner, with a 38% uptick.

And while active accounts may be shrinking, active players for these online games are growing. They tend to spend less than regulars, except for slots of course, with the 3% rise in casino game bets coming with a 13% surge in the number of people playing them. Poker has boosted its active player count by an astonishing 53%.

This has led to some good results for operators. 888 Holdings, which runs both 888casino and 888poker, has reported forecast-beating results. Average daily revenue jumped 34%, which the company said was because of a shift in consumer preferences to online gaming. Its stock price soared 15.6% in the aftermath. Peel Hunt, a research company, said that the shift, which has brought lower revenue for physical locations and the industry as a whole, could make online gaming a big winner.

Lockdown remains in place for physical casinos, which will remain closed in the UK after 4 July, unlike other entertainment services such as cinemas and pubs. The Betting and Gaming Council has pressed the government to ease restrictions. Chief Executive Office Michael Dugher praised the industry after a visit to the Rialto Casino, in the heart of London, saying that casinos had ‘pulled out all the stops’ to ensure a safe environment to welcome players back to.

The BGC went on to say that at the 120 UK casinos strict measures were ready to be put in place. These include frequent cleaning and sanitising of seats and surfaces, as well as ensuring social distancing rules could be adhered to.

The financial implications of remaining closed are stark. John O’Reilly, CEO of the Rank Group which owns and operates Grosvenor Casinos, with 53 British outlets, said that the firm was losing £10m a month across its entire operations, which also include online gaming. Reopening casinos would be a boon for the economy, he suggested, as it would allow people to get back to work, lessening the burden on government support. Before the lockdown Rank’s physical locations contributed £1.5m in tax a week to the Treasury, which could help the government as it quickly issued debt to cover the economic impact of the virus.