It is clear that the internet has changed gambling significantly in the past 20 years, but until now we have never had a national survey providing a view of how people in the UK gamble in the internet age. The Online Betting Guide (OLBG) study will help to build up such a view, offering insights into gambling habits and preferences.
Our findings should give the whole gambling industry food for thought. They show this is a nation where gambling is an inexpensive source of enjoyment for many people, who now use many different forms of online gambling as well as land based options.
But they sound a warning too, for companies that are failing to make their premises feel welcoming to potential customers; or those that are unable to keep up with the pace of technological change. They will struggle to meet changing consumer expectations unless they also adapt and change.
We hope you find the study interesting and useful.
Section 1 Gambling Habits
Our findings tell us a lot about gambling in the UK. One thing they prove is that enjoyment is at the heart of many peoples’ gambling activity. We asked respondents if they agree with this statement: “I enjoy a flutter (to make a small bet) occasionally.” Almost nine out of ten (86%) do agree, including 40% who ‘strongly agree’.
What people like to gamble on
Asked about their typical gambling habits, just over half of those questioned (53%) say they play the lottery, while 52% use online betting sites or apps to bet on sports. More than four out of ten (41%) buy scratchcards regularly.
Men are more likely to bet on sports online or through an app, or to visit a bookmaker; while women are more likely to buy scratchcards or play bingo online or via an app. These findings suggest that bingo companies and bookies could each do more to attract more customers of both sexes.
Habits and preferences vary by age
Our findings suggest that the older you are, the more likely you are to play the lottery or visit a bookmaker. But people aged 65 and over are also most likely to bet on sports online or via an app: six out of ten do so, just ahead of the two age groups between 45 and 64; and 18 to 24 year olds.
These findings show that online and app-based gambling are now completely mainstream activities, enjoyed by “digital natives” aged 18 to 24 and by many people aged 45 and over. Overall, more people now play these games than visit a bookie. Some players in the oldest age group may enjoy these games in part because they are very comfortable using smartphones and computers. Some may prefer using them because they now find it harder to visit some of the places where they might have gambled in the past, such as a bookie’s or a sports ground.
Gambling preferences around the UK
Games of chance or skill?
We also asked whether people prefer to gamble on activities based on chance, like slots, or on those that involve an element of skill, like poker or predicting sports scores. Four out of ten (40%) prefer to use some skill, while 16% prefer games of pure chance. More men than women prefer gambling with an element of skill, while women are more likely to prefer a game of chance.
Section 2: Gambling frequency and spend
About eight out of ten people we surveyed gamble at least once a week, with the largest group being the 42% who gamble between one and five times each week. On average, our respondents gamble 5.36 times per week.
Younger people tend to gamble less frequently than older people. Those aged 45 and over are more likely to gamble between one and five times per week, with about half of the respondents in each of the oldest age groups doing so. People in the 18 to 24 age group are the least likely to gamble every week and have the lowest weekly average gambling frequency: 4.08.
More than nine out of ten of the people we surveyed (93%) have gambled online at least once. We asked this group if they now gamble more or less than five years ago. Just under half (46%) say they still gamble as often as five years ago. One in four (25%) say they now gamble more often – but almost as many (24%) say they gamble less often. So although it seems that gambling online – which in theory makes it easier for people to gamble whenever or wherever they are, has not had a big effect on how often people gamble.
How much money do people spend gambling?
On average, our respondents spend £27.98 gambling each week. More than half (54%) spend no more than £20; almost two-thirds (64%) spend no more than £25. There are a few big spenders: one in 25 (4%) spend more than £100 per week; and 1% spend more than £200.
Evidence of excessive spend on gambling
Although for most people gambling is a relatively inexpensive pastime, we should not overlook the real problems that some people experience when they spend too much money gambling. We cannot be sure how many among those people who say they spend £100 or more on gambling each week can genuinely afford to do so. It is also concerning to see that 9% of respondents either don’t know how much they spend on gambling or would prefer not to say, including 13% of male gamblers.
More than one in three respondents (35%) say they have actively tried to cut down how much they gamble. Younger people are more likely to have tried to do so, including half of those aged 18 to 24 and more than four out of ten people in both the 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 age groups.
Section 3: In-person and online gambling – today and in the future
There was a time when most gambling took place in person, at a bookmaker’s premises or casinos, with the one notable exception being the football pools. But today more than nine out of ten UK gamblers (93%) have gambled online at least once.
We asked people who have gambled online and in person which they prefer. Almost half (46%) say they like both just the same, but more than one in three (36%) prefer gambling online. Only 14% prefer gambling in person.
Four out of ten gamblers have never visited a casino
Four out of ten UK gamblers have never visited a casino, although almost six out of ten (58%) have.
We also asked respondents whether they are likely to go into a physical casino to gamble in future. 43% think they will, but 34% think this is unlikely. More respondents aged under 45 – about half – say they are likely to visit a casino in future.
When and where do people visit casinos?
Among those who have been to a casino, the average time since their last visit was more than three years (39.72 months). One in three (34%) have visited a casino within the past year, including 17% whose last visit was less than six months ago. But almost as many (31%) have not been to a casino for more than four years.
Gambling often seems to feature as part of a holiday. The top five cities where our respondents have visited casinos are:
Reasons why some people have not visited a casino
Some casinos are clearly not so welcoming as they might be. We asked all our respondents if they agreed or disagreed with this statement: “An in-person casino has too many barriers to entry”. 42% agree; only 19% disagree.
We also asked people who have never visited a casino whether any of a list of possible reasons had discouraged or prevented them from doing so.
The reasons cited most often were:
“I don’t know how to play lots of the games.” (cited by 32%)
“I’d be worried about doing ‘the wrong thing’.” (23%)
“I’d be worried about looking out of place.” (22%)
“I think I’d gamble too much if I had the rush of doing it in person.” (21%)
How has the internet changed the way people gamble?
Finally, we asked if respondents think it is likely or unlikely that the future of gambling will involve “virtual casinos”: online simulations of real-life casinos. Almost two-thirds (64%) think it is likely; only 6% think it is unlikely. People aged under 45 were more certain: at least two-thirds think we are likely to see virtual casinos in future.
Our results show that gambling in the UK has never been more varied, as the industry takes advantage of the capabilities of new technologies. They show that for most gamblers this is an enjoyable, inexpensive pastime: almost two-thirds of the people we surveyed (64%) spend no more than £25 gambling each week – although we do not in any way minimise the seriousness of problems associated with excessive gambling.
These results also confirm the impact of new technologies on gambling in the UK. More than eight out of ten UK gamblers think the internet has fundamentally changed the way people gamble; while more than seven out of ten think it has changed their own gambling habits. While millions of people still enjoy gambling face-to-face at bookmakers, casinos and in bingo halls, it is striking that while among people who have gambled online and in person, more than one in three (36%) say they prefer gambling online; and only 14% prefer gambling in person.
Our findings also stand as a warning for those working in the industry whose premises do not appear to be welcoming for everyone. It’s striking that 40% of people surveyed for this report have never stepped inside a casino; and that more than one in five of those people say this is in part because they would be worried about “looking out of place.” It’s also significant that almost one in three people (32%) say they feel more confident behind a screen – double the number who feel confident in person.
Overall, our study suggests that those companies that fail to keep up with evolving technologies and consumer preferences will struggle to attract punters over the longer term. Those that do keep pace with change will benefit from new ways technology can offer the UK’s gamblers entertainment and excitement over the years to come.
This report is based on independently conducted online research carried out on behalf of the Online Betting Guide (OLBG) by OnePoll between June 8 and June 13 2023. The sample was a nationally representative group of 1,000 adults living in the UK, who have all gambled at some point in their lives, excepting those who have only gambled on the National Lottery.
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