In-play betting was a major boost for the sports betting sector when it first appeared, giving punters unparalleled control over their bets. For the first time, thanks to online and later mobile technologies, players were able to cash out bets ahead of time, or bet once the action was already under way, with dynamic odds served in near real-time.
But according to new figures released by the UK Gambling Commission, in-play betting might have peaked for UK punters.
According to figures in the regulator’s latest annual report, the number of UK punters betting in-play has fallen, against an otherwise relatively static picture since the previous years’ findings from 2017.
Overall, the numbers participating in gambling was up by 1%, to 46% – 51% of men and 41% of women. Excluding those who solely play the National Lottery, the figure was up by a percentage point to 32%.
Online gambling remained consistent at 18%, or 14% excluding the National Lottery, which was exactly the same as the figures for the year previous. Interesting, in-play betting dropped by 3 percentage points, down to 23%, while amongst the 35-44 year old demographic, the decline was an even starker 7 points.
The same trend was reflected across all demographics, except for the 65+ group, which saw increased participating in in-play betting.
The figures suggest there may be a degree of fatigue amongst UK punters for in-play. No longer the novelty it once was, in-play is now a fixed part of the online and mobile betting landscape, and analysts have suggested this could in part be influencing the flat and declining patterns of gaming activity.
Others have pointed to measures introduced by the Gambling Commission and other authorities in the UK, as part of a wider tightening of gambling laws. Recent months have seen changing political winds in the country as far as gambling is concerned, with momentum generally moving towards a more regressive, restrictive approach to gambling regulation.
While there is nothing direct in the figures that would confirm this analysis, it seems likely the combination of new measures and advertising restrictions would have played into the 2018 figures.
UK gambling operators have already signed up to a scheme that will see them halt all advertising activity during live sports broadcasts, though that’s not expected to come into play until later this year, and therefore would not have impacted on last years’ figures.
However, the report shows that only 45% of gamblers said advertising had influenced their decision to gamble, which was down significantly on the same figures from 2017. Amongst the 18-24 and 35-44 demographics, the decline in this figure was a hefty 13% from the figures on the previous year.
The news will scarcely be welcome for sports betting operators, who of course rely on betting activity remaining strong year to year in order to satisfy their shareholders. Nor for the government, which relies on gambling operators to remain profitable, in order to fund public services through their significant contributions to the Exchequer.
While protecting vulnerable and problem gamblers is a noble and worthwhile aim, and one supported throughout the industry, regulators must now view the figures in light of concerns they may be pushing too far and too fast in restricting gambling freedoms in the UK market.
While the figures across the board are generally flat, there now seems to be a danger of pushing the market into reverse gear if ever more stringent measures are to be introduced.