Study: Bettors not shifting to casino under lockdown

3 June 2020

The first empirical study examining player behaviour before and after countries locked down to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has found casino activity among sports bettors has declined since 7 March.

This, the report argued, suggested there was "no relationship" between the lack of sports betting events, and increased frequency and intensity of casino play.

The report, based on player data from a “large European online gambling operator” with players based in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Germany, found that many sports bettors with the operator were already casino players. In the absence of sports, these players reduced - rather than increased - casino spend.

The study claims to be “the first to investigate the behavior of a sample of online sports bettors before and after Covid-19 measures were put in place by European governments”.

The authors of the study - Michael Auer of German data company Neccton, Doris Malischnig at the Office of Addiction and Drug Policy of Vienna and Mark D. Griffiths of the International Gaming Research Unit at the University of Nottingham - examined all sports bettors who placed a bet in at least five of the ten calendar weeks between 1 January and 7 March, 2020. The authors examined players' activity both before lockdown and until 30 April, working on a sample of 5,396 bettors. 

Before the lockdown, of those who bet on sports in exactly five of the ten weeks, 76% played casino games. For those who bet in each of six, seven or eight weeks, 77% played casino. For those betting in nine weeks, this figure was 78% and for those betting in each of the first ten weeks of the year, 79% played casino games.

However, after 7 March, the numbers fell across every group.

“This means that not only did players wager less on sports (most events had been canceled by March 7), but they also wagered less on online casino games,” the study explained. “This indicates that there was no conversion of money spent from sports betting to online casino, at least for this particular online gambling operator.”

Among the 1,184 players who bet in five weeks, just 60% played casino after this date. For the 874 people betting in six weeks this was 62%, and for the 803 customers betting in seven weeks it fell to 63%.

Of those who placed sports bets in eight of the first ten weeks of 2020, of which there were 743 customers, 68% played casino and for those placing bets in nine weeks this figure was 71%.

While the decline in casino activity was much lower in the 978 customers who placed bets every week before 7 March, this figure was still lower than before, at 76%.

“Although online casino gambling did not become more frequent, it appears that more frequent sports bettors also maintained their online casino gambling, whereas less frequent sports bettors were more likely to stop gambling altogether,” the study said.

When customers were ranked by the amount of money they typically wagered on sports, again every cohort’s casino activity declined. However in this case, there was no pattern between betting spend and decline in casino activity.

Of those who spent the least on sports bets, 85% played casino games before lockdown, compared to 77% after. Of those who spent the most, 78% played before, compared to 68% after. Out of ten total groups, the largest decline was among the third-highest spenders and the smallest decline was among the fourth-lowest spenders.

“More intense sports bettors did not appear to play online casino games more or less often when sports betting was not available during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the study added.

The study also looked into the amounts these players wagered on casino games and found this was also consistently down, but again the most frequent sports bettors saw only a small decline.

Each cohort of players who bet on sports nine or less times per week cut their stakes by 29% or more compared to their pre-lockdown stakes on casino games, with those betting in six weeks cutting their stakes to less than half of what it was before 7 March. However, those who bet on sports in each of the first ten weeks of the year still staked 97% as much after 7 March as they did before.

When sorted by sports betting stakes, nine out of ten groups decreased their casino stakes after 7 March by between 13% and 62%. However, the group who bet the second-least on sports increased their stakes by 14%.

The authors of the study reminded readers that despite the study, it was still possible that online casino play had increased in some way. It noted that casino play could have increased with other operators, in other countries beyond Sweden, Norway, Finland and Germany, or after 30 April, when lockdown measures were still in place in many countries.

However, the data does cast doubt on claims of an increase in online casino play which have led to new regulations in countries including Sweden, where Minister for Health and Social Affairs Ardalan Shekarabi introduced a SEK5,000 (£401/€459/$495) mandatory weekly deposit limit and a SEK100 cap on bonus offers from 1 June. This was then amended to only cover online casino, and is now due to come into force from 2 July.

The limits have been criticised by the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), Swedish operator association Branschföreningen för Onlinespel (BOS) and regulator Spelinspektionen, who all said they were likely to push players to the unlicensed betting market.