UKGC publishes gambling behaviour data provided by operators during the coronavirus pandemic

Yesterday (18 May 2022), the Gambling Commission published operator data:

  • reflecting the period between March 2020 and March 2022 inclusive and
  • covering online and in-person gambling with data from Licensed Betting Operators (LBOs) found on Britain’s high streets

that shows, by way of quarter on quarter comparisons, how gambling behaviour has been reacting to (a) the easing of COVID-19 lockdown measures and (b) current environmental factors in Great Britain and.

The Commission warns that:

  • “caution is advised when making any year-on-year comparisons between some months during the period of this data collection, due to differing operating circumstances between 2020 and 2022” and
  • “comparison should also not be made with the industry statistics dataset, as the market impact data may include free bets and bonuses”.

Commenting on this data, the Commission states (with our extra emphasis added below on extracts of which UK licence-holder should take particular note):

The latest operator data shows:

  • online total GGY in Q4 (January to March) was £1.2bn, a decrease of 1% from Q3 (October to December). The overall number of total bets/spins decreased 2% from Q3 to Q4, the average monthly active accounts 1 increased 5%
  • slots GGY decreased 5% to nearly £541m between Q3 and Q4. The number of spins decreased 2% to 17.9bn, while the average monthly active accounts increased 5% to 3m per month
  • the number of online slots sessions lasting longer than an hour decreased by 2% (to 7.9m) between Q3 and Q4. The average session length lasted 18 minutes, with approximately 7% of all sessions lasting more than one hour
  • LBO GGY increased 3% to £551m between Q3 and Q4, while the number of total bets and spins decreased to 3.2bn.

We recognise that the country is now entering a different phase as we adjust to life after a series of restrictions. We continue to expect extra vigilance from operators as consumers are impacted in different ways by the circumstances brought on by the pandemic and the wider economic environment. Many people will still feel vulnerable as a result of the length of the pandemic period, further uncertainty about their personal or financial circumstances or readjusting budgets and time as life returns to normal with a wider set of finance drivers.

We expect operators to:

  • continue to follow the strengthened guidance issued during the first lockdown, taking close interest in data that shows consumers expanding their portfolio of games and spending more time or money than before
  • interact directly where triggers are reached, in addition to their more generic email engagement
  • avoid any temptation to exploit the current situation for marketing purposes, in particular as consumers adjust back to a new normal and be very cautious when seeking to cross-sell products
  • take particular care when on-boarding new customers and making decisions over affordability checks which reflect the environment we are in.

The Commission continues to track market related risk by:

  • assessing the impact of the strengthened guidance issued to operators
  • monitoring key data along with collecting and publishing this additional data
  • where evidence identifies additional risks faced by consumers, taking further action to protect consumers

and will continue to:

  • take steps to permanently strengthen regulatory requirements, encompassing changes to Remote Technical Standards (RTS) and Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) to protect consumers
  • monitor operators very closely and conduct our compliance assessments.

1This is the total number of times activity has taken place across all verticals; therefore, an active account may be counted more than once if they participate in more than one vertical. Additionally, a quarter-on-quarter comparison means that there is further degree of double counting in the active accounts’ data-point. For example, if an account has been active in two of the three months in that quarter, it will be counted twice in the total for that quarter. This is only applicable to active accounts and not any of the other data-points.

Reference above to the Gambling Commission’s ‘strengthened guidance’ is to its ‘Customer Interaction – Additional formal guidance for remote operators during COVID-19 Outbreak’ (on which we previously reported here). That additional guidance caused controversy at the time of its publication on the ground that there had been no prior consultation with the sector. It has featured for the first time in regulatory enforcement respects within the Progress Play Public Statement published earlier this week, on 17 May 2022, as reported by us here.

Attracting headlines such as iGB’s ‘Great Britain’s online GGY falls in March with betting revenue down 40%’, the detailed data tables can be downloaded below but a summary of the operator data published by the Commission states as follows:

Operator Data

The Gambling Commission has published data to March 2022, with the dataset collected since March 2020 showing gambling behaviour has changed over the period.

Retail sectors1 mainly reopened on the following dates after the last set of restrictions:

  • 12 April 2021 – Licensed betting operators
  • 17 May 2021 – Arcades, bingo, and casinos

All remaining restrictions were removed in England on 17 July 2021.

While September 2021 marked the first ‘normal’ month for many with the start of the new school year and workers beginning to slowly return to the office, it was short-lived with the emergence of the Omicron variant in October. In response to this, minor restrictions such as guidance to work from home and face-coverings were implemented.

As measures come to an end, operators still need to be mindful about the potential of some consumers to be increasing their spend on some of the more intensive products while going through financial hardship brought on by wider economics factors.

We will publish this data on a quarterly basis, and as a result this analysis makes a quarter-on-quarter comparison. Please note that this refers to quarters in the financial year 2021-2022.

This release covers data from online operators and Licensed Betting Operators (LBOs) found on Britain’s high streets.

Online gambling

The online gambling data, collected from the largest online operators, now covers the months March 2020 through to March 2022.

Caution is advised when making year-on-year comparisons for some months due to the differing circumstances affecting both years. For example, retail was in operation until 20 March in 2020, but fully closed in the latter part of March 2021.

Comparison should also not be made with the industry statistics dataset, as the market impact data may include free bets and bonuses.

Latest data shows total GGY reached £1.2bn in Q4 (January to March), a decrease of 1% from Q3 (October to December). The decline was driven predominantly by short month in February and a decrease in real event betting GGY.

The overall number of total bets/spins decreased 2% between Q3 and Q4, while the number of average monthly active accounts2 increased 5%, likely to be as a result of the Cheltenham festival in March.

We will continue to collect and monitor the data to inform our views of risk.

Online real event betting

Online real event betting GGY increased 7% between Q3 and Q4, to £493m. The number of bets increased by 4% while the number of average monthly active accounts increased by 11% between Q3 and Q4, reflecting the increase in recreational gambling usually seen during the Cheltenham festival.

Online slots

Slots GGY decreased 5% to under £541m between Q3 and Q4, after reaching nearly £568m in Q3. The number of spins decreased 2% to 17.9bn, while the number of average monthly active accounts increased 5% to reach nearly 3.4m. The number of spins per active player decreased by 6% between Q3 & Q4.

Safer gambling indicators

The number of online slots sessions lasting longer than an hour decreased by 2% to under 8m between Q3 and Q4. The average session length decreased by a minute to 18 minutes, with approximately 7% of all sessions lasting in excess of one hour during Q4.

The number of customer interactions in Q4 increased 1% to 3.2m, with the majority remaining automated in nature3. The number of direct interactions undertaken by operators decreased by 6%.

Offline Betting

The Commission has collected data from the largest licensed betting operators (LBOs) for the months of March (pre-lockdown) and June 2020 through to December 2021. It is worth noting that LBOs closed on 20 March 2020 and re-opened4 from 15 June 2020 before entering a tiered system in October 2020 and closing January 2021. LBOs were permitted to reopen again 12 April 2021.

Absolute values are not directly comparable for some months between these periods for several reasons including:

  • retail not in operation for a full month in March and June 2020
  • phased openings of premises after restrictions began to lift from June 2020
  • local restrictions throughout 2020
  • impact of restrictions on other retail gambling sectors.

GGY reported for Q4 (January to March) increased by 3% from Q3 (October to December) to just nearly £552m, while the number of total bets and spins decreased 3% to 3bn.

Over the Counter (OTC)

The number of bets placed over the counter decreased 1% in Q4 to 144m, while GGY increased 6% to just over £176m.

Self-Service Betting Terminals (SSBT)

The number of bets placed increased by 1% from Q3 to 28.5m, while GGY increased by 18% during the same period to nearly £98m.

Machines sessions

Machines GGY decreased 2% in Q4 to under £278m with average spend per session increasing to £11.71. The average number of spins per machines session increased by 1 to 129 spins in Q4.

Safer Gambling Indicators

Similar to Q2 & Q3, 3% of total machines sessions lasted more than an hour in Q4.

Unique customer numbers are not available but the data does indicate the potential for an increase in intensity of play and the need for operators to remain vigilant in line with the Commission’s latest guidance.

As consumers begin to adjust to a new normal, there may be a mix of displacement of activity from OTC to SSBTs and machines, with consumers possibly wanting to limit contact with other individuals in Q3 as a result of the Omicron variant.

Notes

1 These dates reflect re-opening of retail in England.

2This is the total number of times activity has taken place across all verticals; therefore, an active account may be counted more than once if they participate in more than one vertical. Additionally, a quarter-on-quarter comparison means that there is a further degree of double counting in the active accounts’ data-point. For example, if an account has been active in two months of the three months in a quarter, it will be counted twice in the total for that quarter. This is only applicable to active accounts and not any of the other data-points.

3Some operators may have revised their algorithms to include previously used COVID-19 markers of harm.

4 Except Scotland.

Download article PDF: GC - Operator_data_May 2022