Could the gambling industry ever become 100% virtual?

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The latest figures show that online gambling is now the largest gambling sector in Britain, with 39% of all gambling taking place virtually last year. 

This sector generated a significant gross yield of £5.6 billion between 2018 and 2019, which is an increase of almost 3% from the previous year. 

While virtual casinos and betting websites may be thriving, the same may not be said for their land based counterparts. This year, the total number of betting shops in Britain has decreased by 1.5%, while bingo halls have decreased by 1.1% and the number of arcades has dropped by a huge 5.3%. 

Is land-based gambling a dying industry? Let’s take a look at why people are choosing to gamble online and what the future looks like for physical betting shops, casinos and bingo halls. 

Why do people gamble online?

For busy individuals with little downtime, online casinos and other gambling sites are often more convenient than visiting a physical location. Games can be played or bets made from a mobile or tablet while on the move, or on a computer from the comfort of your own home. 

Using portable devices allows people to gamble in an environment of their choosing. 

Research has been carried out with online gamblers to assess which locations they had gambled at during the last four weeks. Gambling while at home is the most popular location (96%), followed by on the commute (12%) or at work (12%), or even while at a pub (4%) or sports venue (4%).

Another factor that has led to more people choosing online casinos over land-based venues is cost, with many online casinos having attractive promotions. 

As the number of online casinos have continued to rise, competition has become increasingly fierce. As a result, companies are using welcome bonuses, free spins and loyalty schemes to bring in new customers. This has made it even more difficult for struggling land based venues to get new customers through their doors. The cost of getting to and from premises is also a concern for some.

Have bingo halls lost their appeal?

There are now around 650 licenced bingo premises in Britain, with the number of new venues declining year on year. 

The game became popular in the UK in the 1960s, when it was legalised through the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960. This led to bingo halls being opened across the country, and as demand grew, the number of venues reached the thousands within a couple of decades.

The number of bingo players took a hit following the smoking ban in 2007, as many had enjoyed smoking during gameplay. The financial recession followed soon after, reducing disposable income and resulting in many being forced to tighten their budgets. Then came the increased popularity of technological devices such as phones and tablets, opening up a whole new world of online gambling to bingo players.

Playing online gives users much more variety in bingo games. From classics such as 90 ball or 75 ball bingo, to less common games such as Five Line bingo, players are able to try out new games that may not be on offer at their local hall. 

Many online bingo sites also offer users additional features like chat rooms, giving bingo players the opportunity to have conversations with friends or new people during gameplay.  

Some bingo halls have resorted to offering digital games within their venues. While bingo premises usually have an older target audience than online bingo, by putting in digital screens they aim to bring in more customers aged under 35. These devices offer the same speed and game choice as online bingo sites, but have the additional benefit of being in a sociable setting. For those that enjoy the ambiance and buzz of a busy bingo hall, this is an appealing option. 

Bingo halls are not the only land based gambling venue to see a decline in visitors, bookies have also struggled to adapt to change. Recent changes to regulations have become the bookmakers’ biggest worry, as legislation aimed at curbing gambling addiction has damaged the profitability of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). 

So, are regulatory changes to FOBTs to blame for closing down the bookies?

The maximum stake on FOBTs has been slashed from £100 to just £2 per spin. This rule came into force in April after pressure and lengthy campaigns from activists and MPs. 

Bookmakers claim that these machines were responsible for around half of their revenue and as a result their profits have taken a significant hit. As a consequence some bookies have claimed that thousands of jobs in high street betting shops are at risk, as they have had to seek ways of reducing their costs.

Many others have taken a different approach. By reducing the number of FOBTs and increasing their range of alternative gambling products, they aim to divert customers to spend their money on other machines.

However, the biggest threat to high street betting shops has to be the online gambling industry, with industry reports suggesting that virtual gambling is the real reason for job losses. While bookmaker revenues decline, remote gambling revenues are expected to continue growing each year. 

From changing the legislation to technological developments, there are many reasons that the gambling industry is becoming increasingly virtual. With the convenience of playing games from mobile devices and the amount of choice on offer, we can expect the online industry continue to thrive.

However, the buzz and sociable setting in bingo halls cannot be replicated in an online environment, meaning that these venues may never completely disappear. They can continue to attract loyal customers who enjoy spending time at entertainment venues with a lively ambience.

High-street betting shops face difficult times ahead, with the biggest bookmakers turning their attention to generating their revenue online. New FOBT regulations could be the final nail in the coffin for those premises that are unwilling or not able to adapt.