How the Pandemic Affected the Sports Betting Industry
The first wave of the novel coronavirus shut down major sports worldwide from March 2020, which significantly impacted those in the sports-gambling industry from the sportsbooks in Las Vegas casinos to online bookmakers as well as professional bettors who shifted their punts to table tennis and Belarusian football to simulated NFL games.
Before the pandemic
The sports betting business was a fast-growing multibillion-dollar industry at the start of 2020. In the US, more states were considering a move to legalise gambling outside of Las Vegas and globally trusted bookmakers were opening in casinos to capitalise on the potential growth. At the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, a 240-foot-wide video screen was installed to play sports highlights 24/7 at a time when no one could have predicted the total halt of all major sports that continued for months.
At the start
Headlines about the industry stated that simulated football matches, based on probabilities and rankings rather than actual games with players, or video game tournaments, or wagers on the weather would fill the void. In reality, online sportsbooks were limited to football in minor leagues, including games in Belarus, which meant the money played was just a fraction of play in normal times. Yet, by April, software development companies were already providing simulated games to grow business in the new sports betting landscape.
Fall and rise of sports betting revenue
Whilst brick-and-mortar betting shops and casinos were shut in March, as non-essential retail establishments, online sports betting remained open, offering Japanese sumo wrestling or baseball from Nicaragua. Though the companies were losing money overall, online sports bets stopped them from going out of business, though not enough to halt hundreds of redundancies at the beginning of summer. In June 2020, the half-year report from GVC Holdings, one of the world’s largest sports betting and gaming groups, reported a like-for-like 50 per cent drop in gaming revenue, with growth expectations low due to the postponement of Premier League matches and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Add the ban on using credit cards for gambling and betting that came into effect in the UK on 14 April 2020 and the fall in the sports betting industry’s revenue was certain.
While e-sports also saw tournaments cancelled because of the pandemic, the impact has been much less because e-sports are remote in nature. In fact, e-sports betting has seen a surge of interest, with many adults trying new gambling activities during the lockdown, mostly slots or online poker. In the UK, the business that was yielding GBP1.5 million each year up to March 2020, rose to be worth GBP4.2 million in May. In addition, investment into immersive technology could enable fans to experience games live without having to be physically present, which could help deal with social distancing/stadium capacity restrictions.
As lockdown measures eased, remote gambling continued to attract new punters and sports betting is expected to grow. Live football was broadcast again in May, though with no spectators until mid-August. The 2020-21 Premier League season began on 12 September 2020, which further boosted sports betting revenue and 2021-22 is predicted to be a strong year for the sports betting industry with the 2020 UEFA Euro tournament and the Olympics both being delayed until summer 2021. Revenue is estimated to increase by 23.9 per cent over the year and the industry is expected to cope with the affects of the pandemic better than most.