The global pandemic impacted all walks of life – from how we shop to the way we work and from concepts around holistic wellness to environmental concerns – nothing was untouched.

The gambling industry was no different, and the impact of Covid-19 was huge. Its implications continue to ripple through the industry today. From the closure of land-based casinos and the cancellation of major sporting events during the lockdowns to the subsequent stratospheric rise in the popularity of online casinos and a significant shift in gambling behaviours, the pandemic affected the gambling industry profoundly.

The Effect of Lockdown on Real Casinos

The most obvious initial impact of the pandemic was on the revenue coming into ‘real world’ casinos. While some countries’ casinos stayed open, most were compelled to close their doors during the lockdown. Macao saw the biggest hit to revenue, suffering a massive 93% drop in money coming into the region’s brick-and-mortar casinos, followed by Nevada, which saw a plummet of around 53%, and Las Vegas, which sustained a loss of about 39% in terms of incoming revenue.

As is immediately obvious, the regions with the most casinos (and punters keen to visit them) suffered the largest-scale downturns. 

The Upturn in the Online Casino World

However catastrophic the pandemic was for real casinos worldwide, the flip side to this situation was the significant upturn in online gambling during Covid-19 and the periods of lockdown in particular.

In 2020, the online gambling industry in the UK saw an increase of an incredible 78%. The UK Gambling Commission cited virtual slots, poker, and video slots as the most popular games during the pandemic, with the former accounting for 40% of online gambling activity. 

There was also a notable shift in gambling behaviours. Pre-lockdown, the mean average days a week that a gambler played per week was 2.35; this shot up to 3.80 during the pandemic. The mean monthly in-app purchase also increased from £6.05 to £18.40.

A huge benefit of online casinos and an important reason that they soared in popularity during this time is their ability to offer generous bonuses, loyalty schemes, and welcome offers, such as cashback, meaning that new players can have a flutter without committing an offputtingly large sum of money. Plus, of course, online casinos offered some excitement and fun during what was a very challenging time for manyre

The Impact on Casino Stocks

Casino stocks also took a sizeable knock during the pandemic: Playtech Plc saw its stock price plummet to $2.2, a drop of a staggering 75.8%. Red Rock Resort, Wynn Resort Ltd, MGM, and other major players also saw similar massive drops.

With the rise of online gambling and the recession of the pandemic, these stocks have experienced a recovery.

SportsBooks Suffer

The suspension of major sporting events had a huge effect on SportsBooks and their highly popular live betting options. Both land-based and online casinos took a hit without this lucrative string to their bows, and as a direct (and expected) result, sports betting companies recorded a huge loss of revenue during this period. 

Due to the lack of live betting opportunities, eSports gained significantly in popularity throughout the pandemic, which helped these companies recoup some of the losses sustained.

ancient chinese people gambling

Gambling Motivations and Behaviours

According to studies, there were three clear motivations for those newly signing up for an online gambling platform during the pandemic. The most common motive, accounting for 51% of respondents’ answers, was simply because they weren’t able to visit the real-world gambling establishments that they had pre-pandemic. The second most popular motive, at 34%, was boredom, with 28% of respondents citing financial pressures.

However, it’s also important to note that many individuals were still working during the period of the pandemic and therefore had the same amount of spare time and money available as they had previously, and – consequently – their gambling behaviour went largely unchanged.

Making Social Connections

With many of us forced to stay at home for long periods, foregoing regular day-to-day contact with others, online games of poker or bingo provided opportunities for both entertainment and a means to connect with others via the social nature of these activities. Many incorporate live-chat elements, allowing participants to talk with each other while playing.

Online searches for online poker and bingo platforms skyrocketed during the early weeks of the pandemic – while they subsequently leveled out, they’ve never dipped back to pre-covid levels.

Improvements to Payment and Security Processes

During the pandemic, the online world was the only place the action was happening, and online establishments knew that to attract players and generate revenue, they’d need to stand out from the competition. A key way of doing this was to streamline and speed up payment processes to replicate the fast-moving action of a land-based casino. Players expected to be able to deposit funds and withdraw winnings quickly – and for the sign-up process to be as smooth as possible. Users wanted to be able to enter their details and hit the tables near instantly and often wouldn’t stick around if this wasn’t the case.

Beefing up online security also became more crucial than ever before. As a result, as well as deploying an advanced arsenal of tools to protect players, their funds, and personal information, the major online platforms also became much more transparent about exactly what these tools are.

Attracting New Players to Online Poker

A key change brought by Covid-19 was the increase in players trying online poker for the first time – and specifically, new women players. Whereas poker has traditionally been seen as a ‘men’s’ game, the online, anonymous nature of online games meant that, during the lockdown, more women felt comfortable participating in online poker for the first time.

Online casinos became much more aware of the importance of appealing to a wider demographic and subsequently have reimagined their branding and marketing efforts, as well as the games on offer themselves and how they’re played, to make them attractive to a much wider section of the population.

The Post-Pandemic World

Despite land-based casinos now having fully reopened, many gamblers who turned to online platforms during the pandemic have continued to frequent these sites, impressed with the convenience they offer. On the other hand, many new gamblers, who signed up for an online casino for the first time during Covid-19, have been interested in seeking out the experience of a brick-and-mortar casino after experiencing, for example, poker, bingo, or roulette online.

Ultimately, the proliferation and increased popularity of online casinos are almost certainly here to stay.

The Future

With the restrictions of the pandemic, thankfully, gradually receding in the rear-view mirror, we’re in a profoundly changed world. There are now more online casinos than ever before, designed to appeal to a wider demographic and offering a dizzying array of games and ways to gamble.<

A key trend for this year and beyond is the rise of online crypto casinos. Rather than simply offering crypto as a way to fund player accounts, these types of virtual establishments are completely geared around cryptocurrency, even down to the design of the games themselves, and are rapidly growing in number. While regulation-wise, crypto casinos currently operate in something of a grey area in many regions, expect much-needed clarification regarding regulation later this year.