Australia sees big surge in online gambling
Insight provided by Julian Hoskins, Principal at Senet

With the recent closure of land-based casinos, retail wagering venues and gaming venues, sign-ups to online gambling operators are increasing at a significant rate as retail customers shift to online. Australia’s 194,000 poker machines sit dormant and venues are not expected to re-open any time soon. Coupled with the current stay at home rules, individuals are getting bored and are looking to the internet for entertainment.

Sharp rise in online gambling
A joint study by Australian credit bureau illion and analytics firm AlphaBeta has revealed a 67% increase in online gambling for the period 30 March to 5 April 2020, following the recent shutdown of all of Australia’s non-essential services due to Covid-19. This is one of the largest boosts for any sector of the Australian economy. If this trend continues, then it is estimated this will amount to approximately $2 billion of additional expenditure in this sector by the end of the year. An obvious question also arises as to what percentage of retail customers who have shifted to online product are likely to migrate back?

Whilst online wagering on racing, sports and other approved events is permitted across Australia, online gaming (including casino products) are among the activities strictly prohibited under the Interactive Gambling Act.

The upward trend in online gambling is happening globally, albeit with a different mix of wagering/gaming compared to just wagering in Australia. In the US, FOX Bet says its online casino and poker operations have doubled the rate at which it is adding new customers in the last week. Israeli firm Optimove reported the company saw a 43% increase in online poker games and a massive increase of 225% of people who began to play poker online for the first time, when compared to the pre-Covid-19 figures. In the UK, MPs have appealed to online gambling firms to impose a temporary betting cap of £50 a day during the Covid-19 crisis as online gambling increases and have as of this month, banned the use of credit cards to pay for gambling. In Latvia, all online gambling has been banned during the Covid-19 crisis.

In Australia, thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing have shown how resilient the sector can be in a time of crisis with races continuing to run daily, albeit without crowds in attendance. With most other major sporting leagues around the world cancelled or postponed, interest has now shifted to those that still remain in operation, giving visibility to sports that would otherwise be low down on the list of betting options such as Russian ice hockey, Tajikistan Northern Cup basketball, Japanese baseball, Belarus tennis, Ukraine’s table tennis cup and Nicaraguan soccer.

Entertainment and novelty betting markets and esports increasing
Australian betting operators are also diversifying their range of entertainment and novelty betting markets available, offering more exotic products such as wagering on reality TV shows such as Lego Masters Australia, the weather including betting either over or under predicted daily temperatures of capital cities, Triple J’s Hottest 100 countdown, quarterly positive and negative residential property market fluctuations across Australian cities with results to be confirmed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics quarterly data, Nobel Peace Prize winner, interest rate movements and what colour tie Prime Minister Scott Morrison will wear to his next press conference.

‘Churn’ on novelty and entertainment products can be mixed. Unlike thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing, which has a great entertainment factor for the punter as well as being higher margin product for bookmakers, other products can be longer term plays, especially when it comes to betting on the outcome of a reality tv series, and will generally have little impact on an operator’s bottom line.

Another relatively new betting vertical seeing significant gains during the traditional sports shutdown is esports. Esports betting has been on a steep growth curve since Pinnacle took their first bet in 2010, and now betting on matches turns over an estimated $13bn per year globally. With live esports tournaments shut down due to Covid-19, tournament organisers like ESL have been able to quickly shift from in-person LAN events to a remote online format. Without all of the other traditional sports being played at the moment, this is giving esports more prominence in the list of available betting options.

Retail businesses need to future proof
Epidemiologists in Australia and overseas have been warning of a coronavirus outbreak for years and say that another pandemic will happen again, however the speed and severity of the next outbreak may or may not be as detrimental as the one we’re experiencing now.

Australian operators need to be thinking about how they can future proof their businesses, particularly those exposed to retail or with a limited online offering. They need to be critically reviewing their risk frameworks, supply chains, thinking about potential new revenue streams and product innovation and alternative ways of operating to help them be as resilient as possible to any future shocks. This will involve working closely with government and regulators to embrace innovation and prepare for what may lie ahead.