iGaming, also known as online gambling, is a 21st-century phenomenon that increases in momentum every year. Since the dawn of online casinos in the late 90s, the industry, which includes playing poker and casino games and betting on sports online, has undergone exponential growth, with analysts predicting that it will surpass $100 billion in revenues by the year 2025.
Here in the UK, iGaming has now become a socially accepted leisure activity, with a wealth of sites and platforms generating thousands of loyal customers playing everything from bingo and online slots, to placing wagers on the Grand National and the Premier League. But what’s behind this shift in attitude towards real money gaming, and what have been the key factors contributing to the growth of the betting landscape in Britain?
Understanding the market
In the past, the betting industry in the UK was challenged by a negative reputation and limited mass appeal. Although it was closely linked to major sporting industries in the country, horse racing has been a part of its origins, for example, it was nonetheless painted in a less than desirable light and only appealed on a long-term basis to certain demographics.
When the digital era fully kicked in, however, things began to shift substantially.
From October 2017 to September 2018, approximately £14.5 billion was spent on gambling on UK shores, with the largest spend attributed to iGaming. In total, £5.6 billion (38.8% of the total spend for that year) was spent online by British people making bets and playing casino and bingo apps and games.
The type of people who place bets has shifted a lot too. Online betting now appeals to both men and women who are in the 25-34 age group. According to statistics from the Gambling Commission, in 2018, 40% of the total UK residents who were surveyed in that age group had participated in one type of real money gaming activity within the last month, with almost one in five doing so online or via mobile. Men still had a higher participation rate, with 37% of male participants having gambled, but 28% of the women surveyed were also participating.
Strong regulations have created a reliable industry
The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) itself is known to be one of the most stringent regulating bodies in the European landscape, and as such has helped form a reliable and trustworthy industry. Platforms that are licensed and regulated by the UKGC have to adhere to strict policies on responsible gaming and data protection, which instills a sense of trust in their customers and helps foster loyalty.
Interestingly, a recent attempt to crack down on gambling activities by the UK government may have inadvertently given online sports betting a significant boost.
In 2019, a new law came into force that had a significant impact on the UK’s traditional betting industry. The maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOTBs) was slashed dramatically to £2 from the former £100. Footfall and spend per customer decreases, and as a result, one of the country’s leading bookmakers that was a regular fixture on high streets up and down the country announced that it would be closing a total of 700 brick and mortar stores. For some residents in certain parts of the country, online betting became the only option.
Unlimited opportunities online?
As with most industries that have made the move online, the opportunities for online betting seem endless for both the customers and the operators.
Alongside the many different types of betting markets that are available online, there are a vast number of online bookmakers offering money-saving promotions, such as free bets for new customers. The opportunity to bet on an unusual event, such as whether or not a certain event on the world stage will take place, and do so for free, has vast appeal – particularly when it comes to reaching out to new demographics.
This appeal is boosted further by the sheer accessibility of placing bets online. Not everyone who is interested in betting on their favourite tennis star to win Wimbledon, or hometown football team to beat their long term rivals, feels comfortable or is even able to walk into a betting shop. The internet gives a sense of anonymity; placing a bet can be painless and the wealth of information available about odds calculations, match/race predictions, etc. that can be accessed at the click of the mouse somehow makes betting online less intimidating. It’s quick and easy, and customers can make informed decisions without having to leave their homes.
Ironically, there’s even an added social element to gambling online that’s available to customers, should they want it. Gamification is the latest, and seemingly effective, trend in online betting and gaming. Many platforms can be linked to social media profiles, giving customers the option to share their activities and results on Facebook or Twitter. Some platforms even have the functionality to let customers create and personalise avatars, further increasing the appeal of real money gaming as a form of social entertainment.
Mobile play generates significant development.
It’s obvious how much mobile has come to dominate our daily lives, so it goes without saying that any industry it’s involved in will also undergo significant developments.
In the past 5 years, mobile gaming has made the switch from being a technology trend to a global industry in its own right. It’s difficult to name a leading sports betting operator or online casino that hasn’t developed an app version of its products, which typically load quicker, run smoother and are much easier than their desktop counterparts. For betting especially, mobile is a very attractive medium since players can access a wide range of markets on the go and quickly place a bet, even mid-match, wherever they are.
All of these factors, which have occurred in a relatively short stretch of time, have turned betting and gambling activities into mainstream forms of entertainment. Placing a bet online doesn’t just apply to thrill-seekers anymore. It’s a leisure activity that can actually enhance a sports fan’s experience or even get people involved in the major sociological and political events happening in the country.