UKGC’s continuing expectations made clear in light of latest COVID-19 gambling behaviour research

The Gambling Commission has published a press release, in which it emphasises its expectation that UK licensed online gambling operators will continue to apply extra vigilance due to many people still feeling vulnerable as a result of the length of the pandemic period and experiencing further uncertainty about their personal or financial circumstances.

We set out below the complete text of the press release and have highlighted in bold aspects that merit particular attention by operators:

May 2021 data shows the impact of Covid-19 on gambling behaviour using operator data

15 July 2021

The Gambling Commission has published further data showing how the evolving Covid-19 lockdown measures have impacted online gambling behaviour in Great Britain.

The operator data reflects the period between March 2020 and May 2021, inclusive, and covers both online and, where relevant, some offline gambling operator data, noting that land-based premises have only recently been able to open since closing in December.

It is not advisable to make year-on-year comparisons between months in 2020 and months in 2021, due to differing operating circumstances of 2020 and 2021.

This update contains May’s operator data.

The Commission has also published related qualitative consumer research conducted by 2CV which asked questions of online gamblers about their gambling through the pandemic period and adds further insights to our ongoing data collection.

The latest online operator data for May 2021 shows:

  • Activity in the online market decreased in May with active accounts 1 and gross gambling yield (GGY) both decreasing 14% and 5% respectively, while total bets remained at a similar level.
  • Slots GGY increased to £211m during the period from April to May. The number of spins increased 2% and active players decreased 5%.
  • The number of online slots sessions lasting longer than an hour decreased by 1% (to just below 2.6m). The average session length increased to 20.7 minutes, with nearly 9% of all sessions lasting more than one hour.

The qualitative research supports the themes of previous quantitative research that we have published in that many of those who took part have not changed their online gambling behaviour. However, some of the participants in the research reported spending more time gambling than they used to and told us that the period has led to some experimentation with new products.

We recognise that the country is now entering a different phase as we continue to ease out of lockdown. We continue to expect extra vigilance from operators as consumers are impacted in different ways by the circumstances. Many people will still feel vulnerable as a result of the length of the pandemic period and further uncertainty about their personal or financial circumstances.

It is likely many have picked up new gambling routines and habits during lockdown that may be hard to change as things return to normal, even as normal spending on other things resumes. This could be challenging for some and important for operators to identify through their monitoring.

We know that some consumers, such as highly engaged gamblers who play a range of products, are likely to spend more time and money gambling and with high level sporting events taking place over the summer there are more opportunities for betting customers to gamble.

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 lockdown eases 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 Covid-19 related risk by:

  • Assessing the impact of the strengthened guidance issued to operators
  • Monitoring key data and collecting and publishing this additional data
  • Supporting the industry as land-based premises continue to open up
  • Where evidence identifies additional risks faced by consumers, taking further action to protect consumers

and will continue to:

1This is the total number of times activity has taken place across all verticals; therefore, an active account may be counted more than once.

In relation to the related qualitative consumer research conducted by 2CV (mentioned above), the Gambling Commission explains that this was designed to add an additional layer of insight onto its ongoing monitoring of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Commission recognises that this research is not “nationally representative” but suggests that it nevertheless provides “a useful window into the wider experiences of some gambling consumers, to consider alongside our robust data and statistics”. It lists the following key facts arising from the research:

  • Whilst the pandemic has spurred reflection on life and finances, many participants in this research have not changed their online gambling behaviours and only a minority have decreased gambling frequency
  • Experimentation with new games and reliance on (debit) card payments can also make it harder to track spending – which has resulted in greater overall spend (though not necessarily higher stakes)
  • Many participants report feeling disappointed at their gambling habits since the pandemic, with only a minority noting positive impacts
  • Whilst younger participants in the research were more likely to have increased overall time and money spent gambling, they were less worried about this compared to older age groups.

The 2CV Powerpoint Presentation entitled ‘Exploring Gambling & Finance – Exploring the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic’ (that you can download below) makes the following key recommendations:

Whilst many reported reflecting on overall finances and gambling behaviours in the pandemic; for most, these reflections did not translate into behaviour change. Many also found it easy to justify more time and money spent gambling as a result of lack of other leisure activities. It will be important to consider:

  • The impact on behaviours as things return to ‘normal’: it is likely many have picked up  new gambling routines and habits during lockdown that may be hard to change as things return to normal, even as normal spending on other things resume. This could have serious consequences for people’s finances
  • Younger audiences: It appears that younger audiences are most at risk of spending more time and money on gambling and are also less likely to be concerned about this behaviour. Communications about gambling risks may need to look at targeting this group specifically.

You can download below the following:

Download article PDF: GC - Online operator data May 2021