By now the COVID-19 outbreak has affected everyone in one way or another, whether it has closed your place of work, left you stranded on holiday, resulted in the cancellation of an event you were looking forward to, or just forced you to be a little more frugal with the loo roll.
The world of sports betting has certainly felt the impact of this global virus. With most sports and leagues in lockdown until further notice, online sportsbooks have had 90% of their business ripped from under them.
Even worse, there is no end in sight so planning for the future is difficult from a business perspective, and with 100,000 people working in the gambling sector in the UK there is a slot at stake.
So what does this mean for bookies and bettors, and how are we going to react?
If sporting events are not happening, bookmakers cannot offer odds on them, and if bookmakers cannot offer odds then they cannot make any money. This will affect smaller bookmakers especially, as they will be less robust and therefore less able to weather a storm like this.
Online bookies have understandably gone into overdrive promoting alternative betting products and trying to come up with new markets for punters to try, but they are limited as to how much they can do.
As businesses around the world have to decide what to do about their staff who are no longer allowed to come to work, what will become of those who work in the gambling industry?
Bet365 have led from the front by committing to paying all of their 4,300 staff until August at least and making no one redundant. A spokesman said:
“In times of uncertainty is was essential that we reassured our people of the commitment we have to them and the wider community. They have been instrumental in our success and will continue to be so throughout these troubling times and beyond, when normality will inevitably be restored.”
But not all bookies have the kind of resources as Bet365, so the future is less clear for others.
Betting Shop Closures
On the 20th of March the UK Government instructed all betting shops and casinos to close their doors as part of the effort to slow down the spread of Coronavirus.
High street bookmakers were struggling anyway, with 4 shops reportedly closing each day at the tail end of 2019. This enforced closure will be re-examined in 28 days times, but individual gambling companies are already predicting combined losses of £100 million and upwards for the year.
And yet, with the older generation being the most at risk from the virus the move makes sense. Betting shops are synonymous with old men wearing flat caps, making them a breeding ground for COVID-19, and an extremely unsafe environment for their patrons.
The Government has promised to cover the wages of all those on PAYE contracts up to £2,500 a month, but it is unclear whether bookmakers and casinos will be included in this.
Share Prices Plummet
Shareholders are quite rightly worried about their stock in these troubled times, and many have abandoned the bookmakers and sent share prices plummeting to 10 year lows.
Here are a few of the bigger brands/companies for comparison:
|Brand||Share Price||1 Month Change|
Private companies like Betfred and Bet365 will be suffering just as much, although they don’t have shareholders to worry about.
One slight silver lining for betting companies that run both a sportsbook and a casino, is that business at their casinos is likely to see a spike as sports bettors with nothing to bet on look elsewhere for entertainment.
This could lead to a scurry to attract customers with casino offers and the like, but it’s unlikely to cover the shortfall or even get close to it.
Things could go one of two ways: either people find themselves with more disposable income than usual since their salaries are covered by the government and they can’t spend any of it at restaurants, theatres, cinemas etc., or people will go into self-preservation mode and cut back on all unnecessary spending, especially those who are self-employed and currently receiving very little help from the establishment.
Long-form gambling products like poker and bingo could see a huge uptake, as people look for ways to spend their newfound free time without breaking the bank, but slots are eternally popular too.
For us punters, the only immediate side effect is that we have much less to bet on. However, thinking a little deeper it also means that we will become less effective bettors because the sports that are still available are unlikely to be many people’s areas of expertise.
This could mean more losses in the short term until punters adapt to the new markets, but if we think long term this could actually result in enhanced levels of knowledge in previously unexplored markets, so when the world gets back to normal our betting portfolio could be much more diverse.
New Betting Markets
So what is still on offer?
Well, esports is the obvious category that is safe during this pandemic. Not only that, but this is a market that has been gathering pace for a while now, with more and more people giving it a try.
If you have ever been curious then now is the perfect time to trawl through the stats and get to know the games and teams. It can be really fun to watch too if you ever enjoyed first person shooters as a kid.
If you aren’t ready to diversify too heavily just yet you could always start with some FIFA betting, as at least you will have knowledge of the sport and the players/teams involved.
Table tennis is another market that seems to be benefiting from all of this. Rupert Adams of William Hill said:
“In terms of live matches and streaming, there’s quite a lot still going on in eastern Europe at the moment. It’s been quite a successful in-play event.
There is still a decent amount of horse racing going on too, just not in this country, and you can also find availability on the greyhounds. In fact, this could be something of a lifeline to the greyhound industry if it can manage to keep going.
And how long will it be until PaddyPower starts taking bets on the virus itself?
Fears for Problem Gamblers
The more problematic side of all this is that some people could turn to gambling to try and relieve the financial strain the virus might have put on them.
As backwards as it sounds, small business owners who have been hit by a sudden dearth of trade who are not thinking clearly might see an all or nothing wager as the only way out.
This is obviously not a wise decision, and even if gambling was only used as a distraction, with nothing else to occupy people losses could stack up.
MP’s have foreseen this potential issue and are urging gambling companies to limit punters to £50 per day, but as of yet, nothing has been put in place.
So What Next?
The only thing that is certain is uncertainty.
No one knows when the world will be back on its feet and operating as normal, and no-one knows how many businesses big and small will be forced to close down before we get there.
This has the potential to change the landscape of the betting world as we know it, especially if too many online bookies are forced to shut up shop. This could leave the door open for new brands to come along, and for new markets to become mainstream.