The Coronavirus pandemic is rapidly leading to the end of the world as we know it – and the sports betting industry doesn’t feel fine.
Suspension of most football, tennis and Formula 1 in the UK, Europe, and North America has led to a series of profit warnings from stock-market listed operators.
Paddy Power owner Flutter estimates the firm will lose £100m if restrictions continue until the end of August, while William Hill announced a suspension on dividend payments this year.
All Irish betting shops are closed, and the UK looks set to follow suit within days.
Things don’t look exactly rosy right now, but what does the future hold for the gambling industry, how will the big players react, and will there still be space for smaller fish? Below we will take a look into our crystal ball and try to come up with some predictions.
As this is a fast-moving story, we will assume the current UK government predictions that this situation will last until the middle of 2021 is correct. That’s quite a big assumption to make and considering the recent 180-degree turn over the UK’s containment strategy, it could easily change.
But for now, these are the impacts we see of the Coronavirus on the UK and international gambling industry.
The fact that all UK and European football leagues have been suspended three-quarters of the way through the season has caused havoc with fixtures lists. While Liverpool and Celtic might have been overwhelming favourites to win their respective titles, there were plenty of exciting duels going on in Europe.
A few interesting solutions to the problem have been put forward. These include ending the season now and declaring the various winners, relegation and promotion places based on current positions. Another option is declaring the season null and void and starting it all over again.
But the idea that is likely to offend the least people comes from Italy, which is to spread the remainder of this season until the summer of 2021. This plan would allow all ante-post bets to remain honoured, as well as allowing Liverpool to finally win the Premier League. It might even reduce Man City’s Champions League ban from two seasons to one.
With millions now confined to their homes, land-based casinos temporarily closing down, and few sports left to bet on, it seems one of the few places people can still gamble will be at an online casino. I have been getting plenty of promotional emails offering generous deposit bonuses, so it does look like the casinos are trying to encourage sports bettors to make the switch. Slots, in particular, could see a boost, as those live casino dealer studios seem a little lacking in social distancing, and it wouldn’t take many cases to decrease capacity.
Footfall to betting shops has collapsed, and while the larger chains have an online presence to help make up for this, the smaller independents now face a hopeless situation. No Grand National, no Euro 2020 and most likely no Wimbledon means a sector mortally wounded by the £2 limit on FOBT’s is soon to be no more.
A few weeks ago, restrictions on stake sizes on each slot spin seemed inevitable. That was before the Coronavirus infected two MP’s and led to a near shutdown on parliamentary business. Any new gambling legislation has now been kicked into the long grass, especially with Brexit happening at the end of the year. £2 per spin is highly unlikely to happen this year.
The UK gambling industry has long had too many operators with too much debt chasing too few customers. 2020 was always going to be a tough year for the smaller players, and the economic shocks from the coronavirus pandemic could tip some over the edge. Governments will have some room to help important sectors, but the gambling industry is going to be far down the list. We still expect to see a sponsor of a major UK football team go to the wall and/or be bought out by a larger competitor in 2020.
The sports betting niche has been rocked by the cancellation of the Premier League, Grand National, Formula 1 and Indian Wells tennis tournaments. Some of the few tournaments which remain include obscure South-East Asian football leagues and UFC/MMA. These might not be of interest to the recreational sports bettor, but for live betting fans who are used to making wagers on events which they don’t watch, these could still be attractive. Similarly, virtual sports and e-sports could prove a draw for punters. It will be interesting to see if the big operators announce these niches have held up through this period.
How are you coping with the coronavirus situation? Whether you are in official lockdown or not, visiting a bookmaker or casino isn’t the most sensible approach.
On the other hand, now seems as good a time as any to sign up with a new online casino or bookmaker. There are some excellent offers available right now. Good luck, stay safe and remember to wash your hands.