The past 12 months have been trying times for businesses operating in the leisure sector. That includes the nation’s casinos and bookmakers which, despite a brief period of trading in the latter part of last year, have spent more time closed than open since April 2020.
Sky Bet, the Leeds-based gambling brand that operates a network of high street bookmakers across the country, has felt it as much as most and says every week of closure cost it more than £2 million in pre-tax profits.
It might come as some surprise, therefore, to learn that Flutter, Sky Bet’s parent company, just rewarded all 14,000 of its full-time employees with a share bonus worth £1,000 each. The award was in recognition of the hard work everyone had put in to steer the business through the crisis after overall sales increased by more than 100 percent in 2020.
Boom or bust?
It’s a stark illustration of how a single sector, even a single organisation, can be elated on one hand and deflated on the other. It doesn’t take too much detective work to figure out that the apparent contradiction is caused by the deluge of punters onto online gambling platforms, the like of which are provided by other brands in the Flutter stable.
In fact, overall, Flutter recorded record sales of £4.4 billion for the calendar year, a meteoric rise on 2019. Even more remarkable, the Group still managed to record a £1 million pre-tax profit, despite spending £9.3 million on the merger with Stars Group, plus the additional costs involved in integrating the two businesses, plus the fact that land-based parts of the organization were haemorrhaging money hand over fist.
The move to cyberspace
It’s no surprise that there has been an increase in online gambling activities while physical casinos have been closed and sports betting options reduced due to tournaments being cancelled or postponed. However, the events of the past 12 months have only served to accelerate a trend that was already well underway.
Gambling online brings advantages beyond the mere convenience of not having to leave your house. Lower overheads mean the online casinos can be more generous with their promotions and bonuses. In fact, no deposit slots sites give you the opportunity to try out different games and even win some money without having to wager anything out of your own pocket. That’s simply not something you can experience in a real casino made of bricks and mortar.
It’s the same story in the sports betting world that Sky Bet occupies. As well as offering up potentially lucrative promotions, the online platforms provide exciting new options like in-play betting. Here, as the name suggests, punters can continue to place wagers after the game, race or fight has started, and the odds will shift dramatically with every twist and turn.
Advocating safer gambling
If there is any downside to casino gaming and sports betting online it is that the activity is taking place at arms reach, so oversight and supervision of what customers are doing bring additional challenges. Flutter is already at the forefront when it comes to checking restrictions are not breached on its sites, and in addition, it has taken a leading role in ensuring the necessary support is provided for problem gamblers by participating in self-exclusion programmes.
It has also voiced its support for measures being introduced by the UK Gambling Commission. These are new rules that some operators have opposed, relating to the way modern slots operate. Specifically, games are now required to play slower, with specific limits set on the speed of spins. Furthermore, they are no longer permitted to use sounds, lights and images that suggest a win when the player has actually lost.
Peter Jackson is the Chief Executive of Flutter and he said in a press statement: “Safer gambling is critical to building a sustainable global business and we are determined to lead the industry in implementing the highest standards of customer protection across our markets. This includes the UK, where we welcome the Government’s review of gambling legislation and support the delivery of a balanced framework that will protect vulnerable customers while allowing the many who enjoy a bet to continue to do so safely.”
Can land-based facilities survive?
Flutter might be in rude health, but there are still question marks over the long-term viability of the land-based parts of the business. The overall experience associated with a night out at the casino means that there will always be a demand when the world returns to normal. The outlook for bookmakers, however, is less certain. Rival bookie William Hill has already announced that it will not be reopening more than 100 of its betting shops. Unless the industry can find a unique offering to tempt punters back from cyberspace, this could be just the tip of the iceberg.