United Kingdom:
Gambling Trends

The United Kingdom is one of the biggest markets in the world when it comes to gambling. Regulated by the Gambling Commission (UKGC) players know that licensed premises – whether physical or online – have been meticulously vetted to ensure that they adhere to the highest standards.

You do not have to look far to realise how far-reaching iGaming has become. Big brands are given prominence on TV, social media and even the shirts of Premier League football teams, while the development of modern technologies means that mobile casino gaming is available at players’ fingertips at any time of day.

It is the online market that this page is going to focus on. We’ve collated the latest data available to give a complete overview of the industry as it stands based on 2020 statistics – so read on for our analysis and what we think the future has in store for the UK gambling industry in the coming years.

UK Gambling By Age

Though gambling in the UK is prohibited for under 18s, the National Lottery – both in the form of scratchards and lotto draws – is an exception in that 16-year-olds are permitted to take part.

That form of gambling will be examined in more detail further down this page, but it will likely not be a surprise to anyone that gambling participation increases fairly steadily with age, with working-age people being the most likely to gamble to some degree.

In the United Kingdom this peaks at just under half of 45 – 54-year-olds taking part in some form of gambling. Of course, time and money spent varies from each player but this can at least partly be explained by this particular age demographic likely to have substantial disposable income.

Around a third of legal-age young people in the UK gamble, with technology likely playing a major part in this: Wi-Fi and super-fast 4G/5G mobile connections mean that casino games can be played at any time and in any location. Perhaps the most surprising statistic is to see 39% of pensioners taking part in betting of some form, though these statistics do include physical betting activities such as in betting shops and bingo halls.

Share of gambling participants in Great Britain in 2020, by age

Regular Online UK Gamblers In 2020

As we have established, gambling comes in many different forms, from sports betting and casino table games to online slots in their various forms. Given that wide definition, it is no surprise to see that many people opt to take their favourite form online, with pretty much every activity available.

Between 2015 and 2020, the number of people that participated in at least one form of online gambling within the past month grew markedly. There is also a substantial difference in gender, with men substantially more likely to place a regular wager than women. In 2020 around a quarter of men were gambling online, with 20% of women doing the same.

The reason for online becoming such a hotbed of activity can be attributed to several factors:

  • Technology: Online gambling can be accessed from any device these days, and this convenience also extends to casinos, which offer services on a 24/7 basis. Live casinos have developed hugely and are enjoyed for their realism.
  • Generous bonuses: While physical casinos and bookies undoubtedly have their perks, online players are able to search around for the best offers. No deposit offers also provide the possibility of winning real money.
  • Selection of games: Whether horse racing, roulette or Monopoly is your game of choice, software developers have created thousands of different titles that cater to all tastes – and the list is always getting bigger.

Share of people who participated in at least one form of online gambling in the past four weeks in Great Britain (GB) from 2015 to 2020, by gender

Frequency of Online Gambling in the UK

The below graph from the Gambling Commission delves into the habits of UK punters in more detail. Betting once a week is the habit that most players enjoy, with 32.2% doing so. This was closely followed by 30.8% of players that gamble once a month or less than weekly. Just 14.9% of respondents said that they gambled less than once a month, while 22% of players are the most serious gamblers at 22.15%.

Frequency of gambling in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2020

Most Popular Forms Of Gambling In The UK

Though most advertising on TV and social media is around sports betting – particularly football – and casino offers, research from the Gambling commission shows that, in fact, the majority of UK gamblers instead spend money on lottery and scratchards.

  • 27.3% of gamblers participate in the national lottery with draws taking place six days a week.
  • 8.1% prefer to chance their arm on scratchards; these are, of course, available to purchase at any time with instant wins possible.
  • Online slots accounted for just 4.1% of players in 2020, though their ready availability and simplicity combines with huge potential jackpot wins to ensure a loyal following. A further 1.3% of players enjoy traditional fruit machines, which are still available in many drinking establishments.

Sports betting accounted for 5.3% of UK gamblers in 2020 and this can come in several forms, from multi-match accumulators that can result in unlikely wins to single event wagers from a high-street bookie. At just under 3%, betting on horse racing is still a niche offering that has a sizeable following around the country.

Distribution of gambling participants in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2020, by type of gambling activity

Gross Gambling Yield Of The UK Gambling Industry

Gross gambling yield (GGY) refers to the calculation that is made to determine the value of a gambling operator, taking into account its income and payouts. When taken for the UK gambling industry as a whole, it is a neat way to take a snapshot of the financial health as well as how much players are staking.

GGY for the last decade

The decade between 2010 and 2020 coincided with unprecedented growth in the gambling industry. As the graph below shows, the GGY started off at £8.44 billion and grew by at least £0.1bn every year. The biggest jump came in 2015/16, when this number grew from £11.31bn to £13.46bn and the most recent statistics show that the GGY of the UK gambling industry was £14.22bn in March 2020.

This is a slight decrease from the peak of 2018 and is a sign that the industry has levelled out somewhat.

GGY of the online gambling industry

Without the might and footfall of the high street, for obvious reasons, the GGY of the online industry is smaller. Regardless, the improved availability of stable Internet and mobile-friendly casinos has meant that the amounts involved have grown considerably in recent years – between 2015 and 2016 alone the online GGY grew by around £2.8bn.

Unsurprisingly, when the online GGY grows, the GGY for the industry as a whole follows suit.

Gross gambling yield (GGY) of the gambling industry in Great Britain from April 2010 – March 2020

Gross gambling yield (GGY) of the remote betting, bingo and casino industry in Great Britain from April 2010 to March 2020 (In million GBP)

Number Of Online Players

The data on this topic isn’t quite as recent as some of the rest on this page, with Gambling Commission statistics only covering up to 2019. However, the trend is certainly indicative and it shows that 2017/18 was the peak for the number of online gambling customer accounts at 36.24 million. After that, it dropped by 5 million and, by September 2019, reached 31.57 million.

This is, of course, still a large number, but it is important to note a distinction: this refers to the number of accounts and not necessarily individual players, so punters opting to be loyal to one particular UK casino could be one explanation.

Number of online (remote) gambling customer accounts at GC licensed facilities* in the United Kingdom (UK) from April 2013 to September 2019 (in million)

Household Income Spend On Gambling

Household income expenditure is an interesting topic to look at as it gives an overview of the habits of both high and low earners. While no group, according to the 2020 respondents of the survey, spends as high as 1% of their weekly outgoings on gambling, there is a clear trend that shows that lower earners are likely to spend substantially more of their disposable income on gambling.

This could potentially be explained by the fact that people with low incomes are dreaming of the biggest jackpots as they hunt for a life-changing win. Similarly, it is also possible that the lowest domicile groups financially also chance their arms on multiple activities, such as National Lottery and scratchards, but that breakdown in data is not yet available.

Share of weekly household expenditure going on gambling payments in the United Kingdom (UK) in financial year 2020, by disposable income decile group

Remote Gambling

The below table is a great summary of the rise and rise of the online UK gambling industry in recent years. The statistics cover the period up to September 2019 and show that, year on year, the turnover of the remote (online) business has never been bigger.

The start of this boom began in 2015/16, with a growth of 596% and since then, the increase in turnover has been more steady than spectacular. In terms of specific game types, casino games continually enjoy the biggest market share. This is perhaps no surprise due to the plethora of bonuses that are available to players, new and old.

Gambling Commission Industry Statistics – May 2020

The High Compliance and Responsible Standards Of The UK

The UKGC is one of the most respected and transparent governing bodies in the world of gambling. Being awarded a license has implications in a number of ways, including safety and fairness, but it is also important not to overlook the responsible gambling measures that are in place to help players stay in control of their habit.

Standards are already high, with licensees required to provide self-exclusion options, while there is regular talk of even stricter measures coming into play in the near future. This could include a maximum stake on each online slot spin, for example, in order to encourage healthier gambling behaviours. Other drastic measures – particularly around advertising – have been mooted and with the UK government currently reviewing the 2005 Gambling Act, 2021 could be a year of big change in the industry.

Conclusion: What can we expect in the future?

From the metrics available to us, this piece has shown that the UK gambling industry seems to be nearing its peak, with further growth likely to be steady. However, the industry as a whole looks pretty sustainable with the demand clearly there from players, who embrace new ways of playing, and particularly enjoy finding ways for their favourite games to become even more convenient.

Online casinos especially seem to be operating in something of a golden age – and the sheer competitiveness of this means that players have plenty of options. The fact that big-name developers release multiple new games a month is only testament to this.

Looking ahead to the medium term, there is a feeling of uncertainty due to possible regulation changes on the horizon. This, coupled with the undoubted further improvement in technology, is certainly something to watch and it will be interesting to undertake another health check on the UK gambling industry in another 10 years.