COVID 19 - The Elephant in The Room
Introducing The ‘Elephant’
Just in case you didn’t know ‘the elephant in the room’ is an American phrase first used in the 1950s. It refers to something enormous that people choose to ignore because it is uncomfortable to deal with or discuss.
The particular elephant we are talking about is Covid 19, which we all hoped would have left the building by now. Instead, it has grown much larger and can no longer be ignored.
As sports bettors, this year has meant that you have been deprived of your live sports fix for months at a time. As casino-goers, poker players or bingo fans, the availability of live play has been hit and miss, to say the least.
The story has been the same across the world and this pandemic has had the most far-reaching effects of anything in living memory. Many countries are now doing their best to cope with the second wave of Covid and even those which are not already locked down have populations reluctant to go out to any social venues.
The Burning Questions
We were intrigued to find out how different nations have been affected and how the lack of live gambling opportunities has changed everyone’s betting habits.
Does this mean that bettors and players have moved online?
Has the lack of live sport this year caused bettors to diversify and gamble on other things?
How are land-based gambling outlets coping?
Cause And Effect
When we first started looking at this topic, we expected to see similar patterns across the world and were very surprised to see radical differences between nations. We all know the cause of the difficulties, but the effects have been widespread and varied.
In the UK, for example, the level of gambling has remained relatively consistent. However, bettors have diversified into different types of online play, including e-sports and virtual events, the latter showing a significant spike in interest immediately following the 2020 Virtual Grand National.
Across the Atlantic, the US paints a very different picture. US gamblers distinctly favour betting on sports, with football and basketball at all levels being their favourites. The definitive lack of these events has caused a radical 268% drop in betting activity and revenue according to figures reported by US operators.
In the eastern bloc countries, bookmakers have been a little more inventive with the gambling opportunities on offer. In Russia, there is evidently a big market for bets relating to daily, national and global pandemic figures – just a tad morbid we think!
Other parts of Europe have taken on board some rather more niche sports betting. Some random events like Swedish Trotting (465% increase) and oddly enough, marble racing, with a recent event attracting over 1 million viewers.
All over the world, poker players (and spectators) have suffered in every respect. Not only have all of the major poker tournaments been cancelled, but there have also been few viable online alternatives on offer. The story is worse for amateur players - at the start of the pandemic, there was a huge upward spike, with operators reporting new clients signing up in their thousands.
There quickly followed an equally large downward spiral, with social media overwhelmed with disillusioned players who found the entire experience at best disappointing and with many others reporting low reliability of the operator’s web servers, making play impossible.
How Are Casinos Coping?
The measures which must be implemented for clients to enjoy a safe environment mean that land-based casinos must bear the extra expense, but with only 50% of the clients they entertained previously.
A casino is an incredibly challenging environment in which to enforce social distancing between clients. It requires many additional staff members whose task it is to patrol the casino floor, restrict unnecessary customer movement and remind excited people of their obligations to keep apart by the requisite 2 metres.
Slot machine capacity has also been halved to keep within Covid guidelines, with members of staff on hand at all times to clean down the machines after every player, which is no mean feat.
Live poker tables are one of the most difficult areas to set up, as it is naturally a game that does not conform easily to social distancing. Casinos which are still offering live games have implemented a variety of precautions – insisting that players wear masks and are in some cases, are also confined to a plastic bubble.
Not only does this create a physically uncomfortable environment for players, wearing a mask makes it almost impossible to ‘read’ other players, which is, of course, a significant part of the game.
When Will The Elephant go Away?
It seems that the Covid 19 elephant has become very comfortable in its environment and has little intention of going away any time soon. All retail businesses across the world have been forced to adapt and casinos are no exception.
We hope that the outlook will brighten in 2021, perhaps with the help of the much-awaited Covid 19 vaccine getting closer. However, it will not resolve all of the issues that the sports betting and casino industries are facing.
The elephant might get a tad smaller, but unfortunately, it is not looking set to go for good in the immediate future.
Tracy started writing for us in early 2017 and is a crucial player within our team. She’s the editor of our Blog and regularly writes other articles. Tracy’s online gambling insights are born out of years of real-world experience as a Croupier overseeing table games.