UK gambling industry takes 12.6 billion in record year

Queen Elizabeth II at the races. Her subjects blew a record £12.6 billion gambling last year, says the UKGC. (Image: zimbio.com)

If there’s one thing Brexit has shown us, it’s that Britons don’t mind taking risks, which is perhaps why they gambled away a record £12.6 billion ($16.7 billion) last year on games of chance.

A new report published by the UK Gambling Commission reveals that gross gambling yield across the entire UK gambling industry (ie, the amount wagered minus winnings paid out) broke all records in the 12 months up to September 2015.

Of the $12.6 billion in takings, £3.6 billion was spent by Britons on online gambling, £3.3 billion on the National Lottery and £3.2 billion in betting shops.

Of course, there are two ways to look at these figures; one is to note the growth of the gambling industry in the face of increased regulation and taxation, and the other is to state with alarm, as most UK newspapers have chosen to do this week, that the UK has a gambling problem.

Does Britain Have a Problem?

But does it? The figures equate to around £500 per year for every household in the UK, which certainly sounds alarming. But it’s difficult to know the exact percentage of problem gambling among the general population because there hasn’t been a comprehensive study on it since 2010.

That study found that 0.7 percent of the population were problem gamblers and that prevalence had actually fallen over the previous five years. This is lower than many other countries around the world, but of course assessing levels of problem gambling within the general population is always problematic because definitions can differ from country to country.

Moreover, according to the UKGC, the revenue figures published this week are not easily comparable with previous figures. Because of the introduction of the UK point of consumption tax, which required operators engaging with the UK market to be licensed by the UKGC, we now have, for the first time, meaningful information on the amount the amount of bets taken this year by online operators.     

First Online Figures since Point-of-Consumption

“For the first time the figures include almost a full year’s worth of data relating to online gambling operators; the market share of the online betting, bingo and casino sector is 29% and we’ll be interested to see how this varies over time,” said UKGC programme director James Green.

The figures also throw up some surprises for the mainstream UK media and its perception that high street bookmakers are proliferating through Britain’s cities at an alarming rate. The number of betting shops has actually fallen over the last two years, with 200 closing down due largely to increased taxes, regulation, and competition from online gambling.

Despite this, land-based bookie revenue remained steady, due to a higher yield for controversial fixed-odds betting terminals, which took $1.7 billion and accounted for 56 percent of the betting shops’ profits. The machines have been dubbed “the crack cocaine of the high street” by media and politicians.