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Were all bookmakers hit by the corona crisis?

Coronavirus has affected almost all areas of industry – most have experienced a downturn during and in the aftermath of lockdown, while a small handful have benefitted from people being confined to their homes. Several industries providing at-home entertainment have actually thrived as people have had more time on their hands and been looking for new things to do from home. Television and film streaming sites, food delivery companies, video conferencing providers, online learning providers and sites offering online gambling and gaming services such as online casinos and bookmakers all experienced a surge in popularity, as these all cater for the needs of people at a loose end and unable to leave their homes.

Bookmakers experienced mixed fortunes, depending largely on how generously they embraced service offerings such as gambling on esports online or providing online casino games. Those that relied on live sports betting for large parts of their business fared less well, although many people who would usually watch and gamble on sporting events turned to esports and other gambling services rather than dropping the habit altogether. A simple search on showed those struggling to find an outlet a full list of all betting sites in the UK. Some bookmakers reported increases in betting on esports of more than 40 times at the height of lockdown, compared to the same period last year.

While there was money to be made by online bookmakers embracing esports and other gambling services that could be accessed online, the UK bookmaking business as a whole reported a potential loss of over £2billion as lockdown began. As pre-arranged sporting events both major and minor began to be cancelled, the bookmakers had no choice but to refund bets already placed on these events.

Investor confidence in UK bookmakers dropped significantly, with share prices falling fast and remaining low for several months. Shares in some of the UK’s most loved bookmakers dropped almost overnight by anywhere between around 15% and 25%, leaving many wondering whether they would be able to open their doors again once life began to return to some semblance of normality.

William Hill reported net revenue loss of 57% in the first few weeks of lockdown in Europe and the United States. The firm forecast ongoing losses of around £15 million for each month the retail outlets were forced to stay closed, assuming the government would continue to help financially support workers on furlough. Without that support, the losses were predicted to be at least double that figure. By August, just as most places were able to open their doors again, William Hill announced that 119 of its 1,500 outlets would not be reopening. However, post-lockdown trading has recovered well and most of the 300 staff members affected had been redeployed elsewhere within the company.

One of the worst affected sectors of the gambling industry has been on-course bookmakers who would usually operate on race days. Betting on horses is one of the most popular forms of gambling in the UK, and most people who attend live races will have a flutter, even if only for a pound or two. However, even as the racing itself is starting up once more, the “behind closed doors” nature of the events leaves on-course bookmakers still side-lined. Even once the public are permitted to return to horse racing events, many bookmakers fear that the restrictions likely to be put into place regarding social distancing will mean drastically reduced numbers for many months to come.

Online bookmakers that already had a strong esports offering in place prior to lockdown were ahead of the game in terms of generating gambling revenue. Sites such as Pinnacle and Betway that have been offering esports betting for several years, while experiencing changing customer behaviours, lost less revenue that those that did not already offer this service. A quick look at shows that most of the major bookmakers in the UK are now including esports wagering as part of their online services, in an attempt to replace some of the revenue lost from live sporting events and retain customer enthusiasm for gambling on competitive games. One bookmaker stated that esports had become the number one revenue generator since March, with bettors drawn towards simulacrums of their favourite sports such as virtual football and basketball while being denied access to their real-life counterparts.

The cancellation of a whole season or more of major sporting events has certainly left bookmakers out of pocket. The Grand National alone, the most lucrative horse racing event on the UK calendar, would usually net around £400 million collectively for bookmakers. However, as events begin to restart, the industry as a whole has high hopes of recovering. Online gambling has kept many afloat throughout the worst months. The return to action of the football Premier League, typically one of the most popular sports betting activities, will also be helping. Esports look set to remain a part of the average betting services, which could potentially generate additional income alongside the newly reinstated sports betting and help revitalise the industry.