What’s in store for the UK gambling industry in 2020?

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2019 has been a year of contrasts for the UK gambling industry. For example, according to official Gambling Commission figures the gross gambling yield for the year between April 2018 and  March 2019 has been a very healthy £14.4 billion, but this is still a 0.6% decrease on the revenue for the same period for the previous 12 months. Within these figures, one sub-sector has done very well and that is the online casino industry. This saw revenues of £2.1 billion, a very healthy 5.8% increase on the previous year’s already impressive numbers.

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A great deal of this increase was driven by the public’s seemingly insatiable desire to play online which is being more than met by the operators themselves. With new and increasingly sophisticated games constantly being introduced, the public is definitely getting what the public wants.

In this very competitive market-place of the online casino sector in previous years we saw a large number of so-called mega mergers as many of the major operators sought to become even bigger by joining forces with competitors. This trend seemed to have peaked in 2017-18 and in 2019 far fewer of these deals were done, many of which were relatively minor takeovers.

 

A blow to the bookmakers

For some years the high street bookmakers had provided the backbone of the UK gambling industry but for them 2019 has been something of a turning point. This is largely due to the new ruling on their highly lucrative Fixed Odds Betting Terminals n which the maximum permissible stake was reduced to £2 from £100. This was a move that had been planned for some time, but which took quite a while to be implemented, partly because of resistance from the betting shops themselves.

When it did finally become law in March 2019 it led to many of the most familiar high street names predicting that they will have to close many hundreds of stores. Of course, the competition from online betting, and online sports betting, has also made maintaining a high street presence a less profitable exercise.

So when it comes to looking forward to 2020 and what may be in store for the UK gambling industry there were many diverse opinions given by industry experts at the year’s ICE Conference, one of the world’s biggest comings-together of the gambling industry.

A great deal of focus has been placed on the online sector in particular, especially as this seems to boast the greatest growth potential of all.

As alluded to earlier, it’s the drive of technology that has been so instrumental in helping the sector to mature and grow so rapidly and this is a trend that seems set to continue. In particular, there are five particular areas which are predicted to become even more significant in 2020.

 

Augmented and Virtual Reality

VR

One of the biggest hurdles that online casinos have faced in the past is replicating the “bricks and mortar” experience. Many have introduced a live casino in which real games are streamed to players in real time, but these can only go so far. So, the impending arrival of AR and VR is exciting many in the industry with the prospect of creating even more authentic casino experiences.

 

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Another aspect of online casinos that operators are keen to develop is the provision of more personal experiences and a more tailored service for players. By integrating AI and machine learning into their own systems it’s hoped that this will then translate into an even better customer service, for example by intuitively knowing what sorts of games are preferred and pointing players in their direction.

 

More ways to pay

The days of making and receiving payments online simply through debit and credit cards is increasingly beginning to look outmoded. Online wallets are already making inroads with most of the larger casinos accepting these and there is also predicted to be a move towards the greater use of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum as widely accepted payment methods. In fact, there are already a number of casinos that only accept crypto payments, and these are also predicted to increase.

 

Mobile gambling to prevail

Another of the key drivers behind the growth of online gambling has been the prevalence of the smartphone and, to a lesser extent, the tablet. All the signs are that mobile gaming will prevail in the future and the bulk of online casinos’ efforts will go into developing games specifically for this platform. This is predicted to go hand in hand with the promotion of social gaming through social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

More women players

This trend is also linked to the previous point. Whereas gambling has often been considered to a predominantly male pastime, however sexist that may seem, the social aspects of gaming have been shown to draw in an increasing number of female players. Providers of slots online and bingo do particularly target women and this is expected to continue and even increase.

 

A word of caution

When looking ahead to 2020, however, there are a couple of factors which make many predictions harder to make. The first of these is Brexit which, until it is finally resolved, will continue to create uncertainty not just in the gambling industry, but across the board.

The second factor is whether the government will intervene in any way and introduce new legislation. The main parties have all said in the past that they believe the 2005 Gaming Act is no longer fit for purpose and it’s been described as “an analogue law for a digital age”. But, with far more pressing concerns facing the government following the three years of Brexit paralysis, changes to gambling law may well be a long way down the agenda.

While there are likely to also be some official changes that do affect gambling in 2020, it could well be a case of “wait and see” until some more solid evidence appears.

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