Gambling in the United Kingdom has “plummeted” as sports events have been cancelled or postponed because of coronavirus, say bookmakers.
Football and horse racing make up 75% of the UK sports betting market, but both are currently suspended.
“Levels of gambling have plummeted not just because of betting shop closures but because of the absence of sport, which is fundamental to online betting,” said Michael Dugher, chief executive of industry body the Betting and Gaming Council.
Sports betting in the United Kingdom earned bookmakers £1.4bn in the year ending March 2019 and several prominent players in the industry have warned that this year’s profits will be significantly dented by actions taken to limit the coronavirus outbreak.
GVC Holdings, owners of Ladbrokes, and William Hill Shares in Flutter, the owner of Paddy Power, fell 35% earlier this month as the supply of live sport dried up.
There are about 50,000 people employed in UK betting outlets, with another 10,000 involved in the online sector.
The government has extended the offer of a business rates holiday to the betting and gaming industry, which is usually excluded from such schemes.
The search for live sport
UK bookmakers are running markets on the few remaining sports events still going ahead, with the most prominent football offering most.
Another aspect of the gambling industry that continues unaffected are virtual sports events – computer animations showing fictitious races or matches that customers can place bets on.
Saturday’s Grand National is being replaced on television by a sophisticated CGI version of the race.
These virtual events, along with various lottery games, made up about 13% of UK bookmakers’ betting profits last year.
Over the pond
The legal sports betting market in America is far smaller, with a federal ban on sports betting in most states.
Previously Nevada was the only part of the USA in which conventional sports betting was legal.
Twenty-one states have since legalised sports betting, the most recent being Washington in March.
Casey Clark, the senior vice president of the American Gaming Association, believes that the coronavirus outbreak could accelerate rather than hamper the growth of the sports betting industry stateside.
“Given the budget shortfalls we’re going to see from the existing gaming industry essentially shutting down here in the United States, I think that there might be even more appetite to look for opportunities to bring sports betting to Americans,” he told BBC Sport.
“There is a revenue loss that states are going to have to try to balance when we get past this.”