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Lockdowns forced consumers online, driving 2020 online gambling revenue up 80% in the US. New habits formed during COVID have endured, cementing digital betting’s prominence even as land-based venues reopen.

The Pandemic’s Surge: How COVID-19 Transformed Online Gambling

The global COVID-19 pandemic brought normal life to an abrupt halt in early 2020. With lockdowns and social distancing measures in place around the world for months at a time, people turned to the internet for entertainment, social connection, shopping, and more. One area that saw explosive growth during this unprecedented event was online gambling.

As land-based casinos and betting shops were forced to close their doors, millions of customers moved their gaming and betting activities online at Lukki Casino. In many places, online gambling revenue more than doubled within a short period. These sizable spikes appear to represent a permanent shift, not just a temporary swing based on circumstance. So what changes took place in online gambling during COVID-19, and what trends can we expect to see in the post-pandemic landscape?

Surging Engagement and Revenue

Without the option to visit physical gambling venues, online casinos, poker sites, sportsbooks and more met a tidal wave of pent-up demand beginning in March 2020. Total global revenue from online gambling spiked 22% year-over-year from 2019 to 2020. In the United States, year-over-year growth hit a staggering 80% from April 2019 to April 2020 according to GeoComply data. Specific verticals saw varying but significant jumps as well:

  • Online casino revenue: +18%
  • Online sports betting revenue: +55%
  • Online poker revenue: +90%

Behind those revenue numbers was tremendous customer engagement. Unique player counts, total bets placed, hours played, and other key metrics all saw major increases.

These trends continued well beyond the initial lockdown periods too. According to Google search data, queries for “online casino” increased globally by over 250% when comparing the two-year period before and after the arrival of COVID-19. This shift is also reflected in trading prices of publicly listed gambling companies, many of which saw 50-100% stock growth during 2020 as online revenue rose dramatically.

The Power of Changing Habits

Habits drive customer behavior more than any other factor. When social distancing measures forced consumers to try online options instead of visiting land-based venues, many formed new gambling habits that stuck. McKinsey research shows that two-thirds of customers in the United States and United Kingdom incorporated new digital banking habits during the pandemic. Gambling providers saw similar lasting effects.

These new online gambling habits may explain why growth remained so strong even as regions emerged from lockdowns. Land-based casino revenue in 2021 approached pre-pandemic levels in some areas but still lagged 20-30% behind in many major markets. Online gambling continued its ascendance unabated. Americans wagered over $57 billion online in 2021 compared to less than $1 billion just a decade ago.

Accelerating Existing Trends

While COVID-19 triggered explosive short-term growth, it also accelerated online gambling shifts that were already underway like:

  • Increasing mobile usage – Consumers leaned more heavily on mobile devices not just for gambling but all facets of life during extended lockdown periods. Over 60% of online casino play and 80% of online sports betting now happens on mobile platforms.
  • Live dealer expansion – With physical casino review access cut off, games with a human touch like live dealer tables offered an online alternative that proved extremely popular. Live dealer revenue grew by over 280% between 2019 and 2020.
  • Rising regulation/legalization – Spiking unregulated market activity increased legislative motivation to legalize and regulate online gambling in additional jurisdictions. Seven U.S. states legalized online gambling during 2020 alone.

These examples and others illustrate how COVID-19 poured gasoline on digital trends that were already burning across the global gambling industry. For instance, live streaming and esports betting also gained significant traction beyond just live dealer games. The pandemic simply accelerated the pace of adoption more rapidly than otherwise expected.

A Permanent Transformation

Historical data and consumer surveys make it clear that online gambling has entered a new era. Much of the tremendous COVID-fueled growth has remained even as regions lift restrictions. In fact, some 85% of new or returning online casino and sportsbook customers say they’ll continue their new digital gambling habits to some degree going forward according to a Vesta survey.

It’s unlikely we’ll see 80%+ annual growth continue indefinitely, but analysts project steady 15-20% year-over-year gains in total online gambling revenue for the near future. This represents a long-term reshaping of the gambling industry caused by an unprecedented global incident.

While challenging on many fronts, the COVID-19 pandemic had a silver lining of propelling a digital transformation for gambling providers. Through new products, mobile optimization, expanded regulation, innovative technologies like live streaming and more, the online gambling marketplace is now leaps and bounds ahead of where it would have been without this catalyst event. A tough period sparked creativity and growth capitalizing on changing consumer habits – changes likely to shape gambling behavior for decades to come.

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