What does the future hold for online gambling?

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For an industry that began just two decades ago, there seems to be no stopping the online gaming industry. In that short period, online gaming has become the number one method that people use to gamble in the UK, with over £4.5 billion gambled online between April 2015 and 2016. In comparison, National Lottery participation during the same period, amounted to only £3.4 billion. Perhaps as a result of this, and the growth of the online world generally, a number of physical betting shops have closed over the past 12 months – with a reported 3.9% drop in numbers since March 2017. Also on a downward slide are the sales of tickets by the National Lottery, reportedly leading to a reduction of 16.9% in charitable contributions between April 2016 and March 2017. Now, the UK alone now boasts over 200 sites with hundreds of games that offer gameplays in sterling or dollars.

Playing at home or on the move

There’s an abundance of apps available to anyone wanting to gamble online

One of the biggest draws of online gambling is the ability to play form the comfort of your own home. That’s why 97% of online gamblers do so from home, and 50% of users are on their laptops. But the real growth is coming from tablets and smartphones which now account for 50% of bets placed – an 8% increase from 2016. And that’s due to the sheer number of apps available to gamblers.

While gamblers could still get their fix of the best casinos games before apps came along, it was never easy, mainly due to slow-loading web pages and under-optimised sites.

Gambling operators have been quick to take advantage of the abundance of app development software out there – and there are now more gambling apps available than ever before. Online casinos in particular have been quick to embrace mobile technology – making great leaps forward by improving the gaming quality, excitement and choice available for smartphone users. Thanks to a real casino environment, filmed with cameras and streamed live, many online casinos now replicate the experience of playing in a land-based casino.

So it stands to reason that as consumers embrace further technologies – such as AR and VR – online gamblers can expect to see even further innovations as time goes on.

A healthy level of competition

There’s a huge level of competition in the online gambling industry

Things have certainly moved on since the first online poker game – Microgaming – was released in 1996. In fact there are now:

  • 140 UK casino sites
  • 16 UK poker sites
  • 24 UK betting sites
  • 19 UK bingo sites
  • 19 UK mobile casino sites

In an industry driven by technological innovation, there’s a constant expectation to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to designing interactive and compelling games like poker, blackjack, roulette and more. Competition is so buoyant in this sector, with new entrants arriving almost weekly, and many gambling operators have employed different strategies to take as many opportunities as possible. One way they’ve done this is by joining forces. One of the first of the big mergers to take place in the industry was when the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power entered into negotiations with Betfair. The resulting £5 billion merger saw the creation of one of the world’s largest online gambling businesses.

Interestingly, the number of casinos (146) and bingo premises (583) have both fallen in the past year in a long-term trend – and we can perhaps expect that their revenues and attendance numbers continue to dwindle further as the online market keeps upping its game.

Keeping it surreal

A possible next step for online casinos is to create a genuine AR experience that out players in the room with their adversaries as the go head-to-head on the table. While this sort of experience is technically achievable, there are a couple of barriers to overcome first before it’s rolled out across the industry.

  • The uptake and distribution of the required hardware (AR glasses) needs to grow quite significantly
  • Gambling software development is being kept back until the AR experience is more broadly taken up.
  • Online gambling operators have yet to decide how or if they will make use of AR technology

From Bitcoin to bingo promotions: what else is new in online gambling?

There are so many other ways online gambling could evolve as operators try to increase engagement across a larger audience. Here are just a few:

Bitcoin. The huge increase in interest in cryptocurrencies has led many to believe that their anonymity and increasing ease of use make bitcoins the future of online gambling. It’s certainly not because online casinos are reluctant to embrace innovation. After all, their success has been consistently built on using leading-edge technology to improve the online experience for its players. And it’s not because they don’t want to minimise transaction times and costs, which make cryptocurrencies a tempting move for any business. It’s the lack of transparency, primarily, that puts online casinos off. In such a heavily regulated industry, they need to have a certain amount of information about their players – such as their age, address, email address and perhaps even their occupation – to allow them to gamble. There may also be a concern that the general public are receiving mixed messages about the wisdom of getting involved with cryptocurrencies, too. For example, Bitcoin’s recent price volatility has been widely reported and Lloyds Bank in the UK has even banned customers from using their credit cards to purchase Bitcoins.

Bingo promotions. Along with the technological advances, companies are always striving to stand out from the crowd, this means they are continuously introducing new ways for players to enjoy themselves and make the most of the experience. For example winnings can be used to purchase vouchers, turning playtime in to shopping, a great way to build up the rapport with customers and also attract new players.

Betting shop restrictions. Ever since betting shops were legalised in the UK in 1961, gambling has seen increased regulation and taxation. This is unlikely to change, but the recent Government reductions in betting shop slot machine stakes from £100 to no more than £30 is likely to force even more people to gamble online rather than in the high street.

There is no question that online gambling is becoming the dominant force in the gaming world, and that its growth is set to continue. There are genuinely exciting technological advances waiting to be released, and casino operators are creating innovative new sites for a wider variety of players. The future looks good – as the future is most certainly online.

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