Covid restrictions over the past two years have seen online gambling revenues surge, with UK company 888 the latest to post record figures.
888 – best known for its online casino games – said it generated record revenues of $972 million (850 million euros) in 2021; 14% more than the previous 12 months.
It follows strong online performances for other big players in the industry.
Ladbrokes owner Entain saw an almost 30% increase in online revenue in the first half of 2021.
Paddy Power owner Flutter Entertainment saw its online revenue grow 8% in 2020 and 40% in Britain and Ireland in the first half of 2021.
However, despite its strong results, 888 noted a slowdown in revenue growth in the final quarter of the year as Covid restrictions were lifted in its core markets.
It’s a trend that consumer support group Problem Gambling Ireland has seen here.
Managing director Barry Grant said there was a “rapid onset” of gambling problems at the start of the Covid shutdowns, with young recreational players “at risk of spiraling out of control”.
He said when the sport came to a standstill there was an increase in the number of Irish online gamblers migrating to online casino sites and even an increase in alternative bets such as cryptocurrency value moves. .
However, since the easing of restrictions there has been a normalization and a return to regular betting practices, Mr Grant said.
Yet in each of the past two years, Problem Gambling Ireland has seen a 50% annual increase in the number of visitors to its website seeking self-help advice.
The small percentage looking for its helpline number and counseling services remained stable.
“Bookmaker’s shops are dangerous enough, but online it’s a whole different animal,” Mr Grant said.
“Online poker and casino games are the most addictive of the lot; they are the crack or heroine of betting.
“It’s available 24/7, 365 days a year and regardless of whether live sport is on or off.”
Large betting companies are increasingly looking online to bolster their business.
Last week, Flutter completed its approximately €480 million acquisition of UK-based online operator Tombola, which is rated as “the UK’s most recreational bingo operator”.
Just before Christmas, the owner of Paddy Power also spent nearly €2 billion to buy Sisal, Italy’s leading online betting operator.
Meanwhile, analysts believe 888’s acquisition of the William Hill assets, which is expected to close in the second quarter, will improve 888’s earnings and stock performance this year.
Last year, the company announced the takeover of William Hill’s business outside the United States from Caesars casino group, propelling itself to the high streets of Britain with 1,400 brick-and-mortar betting shops.