For most, it has been a case of temporary closures, restricted reopenings and attempting to shift operations into cyberspace where possible.
That might be workable for retail businesses, but the hospitality and leisure sector has been hit particularly hard. After all, buying a pair of shoes over the internet is one thing, but you can’t go online to have a night out with friends. Or can you? The gambling sector presents us with a unique case and the fortunes of Yorkshire’s casino businesses have been further complicated by the online offerings that are becoming increasingly popular.
A mature and successful industry
The UK has always had one of the most robust, profitable and well-regulated gambling industries in the world. Las Vegas might be seen as the home of gambling, but the city is an anomaly.
The UK has always taken a more relaxed view to gambling, even before betting was officially legalised more than half a century ago.
That has led to the sector thriving in the country, particularly in Yorkshire, where gambling participation rates are higher than the national average. From traditional high street bookies to seafront bingo halls to the new super casino in Leeds, there are facilities catering to every type of gambler. And all of them have faced the most challenging months in their histories.
Closed for business
Throughout the past few months, casinos and other gambling establishments have been forced to either shut up shop entirely or to severely restrict the number of patrons allowed on site and the choice of available activities.
Casinos have worked alongside the Betting and Gaming Council to follow changing government guidelines on closures and restrictions. They were in the first category of businesses to be closed and have faced restrictions that are even tighter than those imposed on pubs and restaurants. As such, many casino employees have had to rely on government-sponsored job retention and furlough schemes. Nonetheless, pay cuts and job losses seem an inevitability as we look ahead to further uncertainty in the coming months.
The online alternative
Online gambling was blossoming and presenting a serious threat to traditional casinos and bookmakers long before the pandemic came along. Recent months have only served to increase their customer base at the expense of their bricks-and-mortar competitors.
However online casinos have been limited in their ability to take full advantage of this as the Gambling Commission has placed big restrictions on the bonuses they can offer and the amounts customers can wager. The biggest impact of these new limits is on the high rollers who had been wagering as much as £100 on a single spin, but found themselves constrained by a new £2 maximum.
Still, that did not stop gamblers from visiting online gambling sites in record numbers last year. Statistics from the UK Gambling Commission for March 2020 revealed an increase of more than 50 per cent in online poker participation and showed that online sports betting was up almost 90 per cent compared with the previous year.
Even after government legislation curbed the ridiculously huge bonus offers and the high stakes gaming, gamblers came to realise that there are distinct advantages to playing from the comfort of their homes. Convenience and safety are, of course, key in times when we are all being told to stay at home as much as possible and to avoid interacting with others. But the advantages go beyond that and will remain just as relevant when life finally returns to normal.
The internet will never entirely replicate the experience of a night at the casino. But it is an alternative that is here to stay, and Yorkshire’s gambling businesses will have to come up with new ways to differentiate themselves in order to guarantee a sustainable future.