The coronavirus pandemic has hit almost every corner of the world and the UK has had one of the worst times. Multiple lockdowns and restrictions on movement have curtailed normal activities and hit businesses hard.
All towns and cities in the UK have been affected and London was no different. At times the capital has resembled a ghost town with people staying indoors or being unable to go to work as normal.
Thousands found themselves newly unemployed or remote working, daily routines were disrupted, and schools closed. Businesses all across the capital and the UK have had to close their doors more than once over the last year.
All areas of industry have been affected, some damaged irreparably while others have seen positive results from the pandemic. While companies such as Buzz Bingo closed 26 halls – all of which were outside London – other companies like Netflix saw a huge surge in revenue and subscribers.
With bingo halls and bookmakers closing their doors, and sports venues unable to receive fans, the gambling industry has taken a knock. How has the pandemic affected that particular industry?
Bingo has been around for about 500 years and is thought to have been invented in Italy. Despite its foreign origins, London has a long history with bingo and the halls the game is played in.
Despite the game perhaps never really being seen as fashionable it has always retained a loyal following and a certain popularity. However, over the last few decades, the game has been in decline. This is for a number of reasons, and they involve younger generations not being keen to take up the game, and also ever-increasing rental costs.
The big bingo companies made a decision previously to move their halls outside of towns and cities to keep rents down and this appeared to have worked for a while but Covid has now killed off many bingo halls for good. For London however, the future still has some hope. Buzz Bingo retained all of its London sites and now it remains to be seen how things turn out once all social restrictions are removed again.
When the lockdowns came into effect, bookmakers across the country were hit and London was no different. In this regard, the capital is the same as the rest of Britain. Bookmakers were told to shutter their businesses and it would be hard to say that London was any worse off than other towns and cities.
The knock-on effect of these lockdowns was that William Hill announced the permanent closure of 119 high street shops. In 2019 a large number of bookmakers were shut down so William Hill possibly used the pandemic partly as an excuse for the latest round of closures.
Of course, casinos were treated no differently than other non-essential businesses and despite companies trying to offer compromises of closing their bars earlier, casinos still endured the last lockdown.
Genting warned in 2020 that over 1,600 jobs were at risk as they looked to close some casino sites. This has led to fears over Crockfords Casino Club in Curzon Street and other London sites owned by Genting.
The problem with many casinos across the capital and the rest of the country is not necessarily Covid but the popularity of online slots and other casino games. Players are now using smartphones more and more to play poker, blackjack, and other games they would normally visit a land-based casino for.
Although Ascot is not in London it is definitely part of the capital’s sporting calendar but in 2020 it never happened. This five-day event brings race fans to the track, the tote, and the bookmakers. No racing meant no gambling and therefore no money for the bookmakers.
Some say London is the best sporting city in the world and perhaps the biggest damage to sports betting was the Premier League being suspended. Tottenham Hotspur’s brand new stadium stood empty, no fans travelled to Chelsea, Bretford, or Q.P.R.
As far as the gambling industry was concerned this was a huge blow again to the high street bookmakers. London’s stadiums stood empty and with no games taking place, there was little to bet on, even if the bookies were open.
Covid hit other events such as Wimbledon, international rugby at Twickenham, plus clubs such as Saracens and Richmond. Even now games for most sporting events are held behind closed doors. With pubs closed and nowhere else to watch the games, there is little incentive to pop into the local bookies.
While every aspect of London and the UK’s gambling industry has been hit with bingo halls shut, bookies closing, and casinos a no-go area, there was one winner; online gambling.
People get bored when they are restricted from going outside, socialising, and generally conducting normal daily activities. So, it perhaps shouldn’t have been such a surprise that the internet saw a huge surge in activity during 2020.
Over the last year, more people have started to look at the internet for solutions to everyday problems. Want some groceries? Order online. Want some entertainment? Sign up for Netflix. Want to gamble? Find an online casino.
Punters who could no longer visit their local bookies went online for the first time. Poker fans, and people who like casinos signed up and deposited money. And, people who had never entered a casino or bookmaker before decided to try an online gambling site.
Perhaps the online casinos and sportsbooks are a bigger threat to London’s gambling industry than Covid, although the virus certainly pushed many customers their way. When it is so easy to join an online kaszinó from your front room and never leave your home it is not surprising so many people are now placing football bets, playing slots, and trying their luck at poker tables online.
The country’s gambling industry as a whole took a huge knock and continues to take blows from Covid and lockdowns. In 2019, the gambling industry supplied nearly £8 billion to the UK’s economy, with London being the second-highest region. That figure will have certainly dropped in 2020 but online gambling could be the way forward as the high street changes.