Record revenues at UK gambling firms amid rise of online slot machines – The Guardian

Industry takings top £15bn as government considers curbs on online slots due to association with addiction
Gambling firms are raking in more money than ever from UK punters, fuelled by a surge in the use of online slot machines, which the government is considering curbing due to their association with heavy losses and addiction.
The betting and gaming industry’s revenues reached £15.1bn in the year to March 2023, or £10.95bn excluding the National Lottery, figures from the Gambling Commission released on Thursday show.
The record high returns mark a bounceback for an industry that suffered a £1.5bn hit in the year most affected by Covid-19, due to the cancellation of sporting events and the enforced closure of betting shops. In that period many punters switched from betting on sports to online casino games, and the figures indicate the trend has stuck.
Revenue from online casino products, which which are associated with higher rates of problem gambling than sports betting, according to a 2018 NHS survey, reached a high of £4.01bn in the Covid-affected year to the end of March 2021. It has now exceeded that total, reaching £4.03bn.
The majority came from losses on digital slot machine games, the revenues of which have more than doubled since 2016 to reach a record £3.2bn, accounting for nearly 30% of all non-Lottery income, up from 23% pre-pandemic.
Slot machine players typically lose more than punters who use other products. According to statistics collected by the Gambling Commission during the pandemic, when online slots play rose, the average spend per player was £67 a month, compared with £36 for other casino products and £45 for real event betting.
The government, is consulting on whether to cut the maximum stake for a single “spin” – currently not subject to legal limit – to somewhere between £2 and £15.
Dr Matt Gaskell, who runs the NHS Northern Gambling Service, said: “This data confirms that the centrepiece of the gambling industry are the most harmful products. These are rapid, continuous casino products engineered to prolong play, exploit decision-making, and generate unaffordable losses. It’s a common issue in our clinics.”
He welcomed the ongoing consultation on lowering slot stake limits. “The government are taking welcome action with online slots and this underscores the need to regulate them robustly,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Betting & Gaming Council said: “Each month around 22.5m people in Great Britain enjoy a bet and the overwhelming majority do so safely and responsibly.
“BGC members actively encourage safer gambling tools like timeouts and deposit limits. While also using technology to identify those at risk through a wide range of markers of harm so swift interventions can take place.”
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The Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs a cross-party group examining gambling harm, said slot stakes should be cut to the lowest possible level, in line with limits imposed on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in 2019.
“Gambling companies continue to rake in huge profit from slots which are highly addictive and causing great harm to people right across the country,” she said. “Government must hold its nerve, not be cowed by an industry whose only motive is profit, and urgently set a £2 limit for online slots.”
This article was amended on 1 December 2023 to refer to rates of problem gambling rather than rates of addiction in relation to online casino products and it is the government directly which is consulting on whether to cut the maximum stake for a single “spin’, not through the Gambling Commission.
In the UK, support for problem gambling can be found via the NHS National Problem Gambling Clinic on 020 7381 7722, or GamCare on 0808 8020 133. In the US, call the National Council on Problem Gambling at 800-GAMBLER or text 800GAM. In Australia, Gambling Help Online is available on 1800 858 858 and the National Debt Helpline is at 1800 007 007

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