Online gambling revenue has soared in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic – with experts warning the growth of ‘addictive’ digital betting could cost lives.
Campaigners also say the “relentless advertising” of online gambling is irresponsible and have called for more regulation.
Figures from the Gambling Commission show that Britain’s remote betting, bingo and casino sector generated £6.9 billion in gross gaming return (GGY) during the year until March 2021.
GGY is the amount operators take from bets after paying the winnings.
This represents an 18% increase from £5.8bn in 2019-20 – the biggest increase since 2016-17, when comparable figures begin.
By far the most lucrative part of online gambling was casinos, which brought in £4.0bn in GGY in 2020-21, a 22% increase on the previous year.
Virtual slots alone accounted for the majority (73%) of GGYs in online casinos, at £2.9bn.
Gambling with Lives charity co-founder Liz Ritchie, who lost her son Jack to gambling-related suicide, said: ‘Online casinos are a very addictive form of gambling and there is at least one suicide per game-related day.
“The expansion of online gambling during a pandemic with relentless advertising and predatory ‘free bet’ offers is irresponsible and government and families should be very concerned – people are going to die.”
Matt Zarb-Cousin, director of campaign group Clean Up Gambling, said online slots and casino products have no limit on how much someone can bet at a time.
This differs from so-called fixed odds betting terminals in betting shops, which have a bet limit of £2.
He added that the current review of gambling regulations by the government was a chance to address these issues.
While slot machines dominated online casinos in 2020-21, peer-to-peer poker – in which players compete against each other – saw the biggest increase proportionally.
The GGY for these games increased by 44% during the year to £141.7m.
Meanwhile, roulette’s figure rose 21% to £528.5m, while blackjack’s rose 4% to £196.4m.
A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: “We are undertaking the first major review of gambling laws in 15 years to ensure they are fit for the digital age.
“We are committed to protecting vulnerable people from exploitation through unfair practices that entrench problem gambling.
“We intend to strike the right balance between giving adults the freedom to choose how they play safely, with the right protections for those at risk. This includes reviewing affordability controls.”