The Laments of Uk’s Taxman

The Laments of Uk’s Taxman

Covid is transforming consumer habits so rapidly that all economic and social actors are struggling to adjust. These phenomenal changes have created many winners as many losers, but the biggest loser has been the State

by Michael Haile

The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the entire world upside down, and the gambling industry is no exception. Financial information is starting to trickle in that will provide a clearer picture of just how massive of an impact the pandemic had on the industry — although it can be tricky to determine whether this data is primarily influenced by a once-in-a-lifetime epidemic or if it’s indicative of broader trends in the way the public prefers to gamble.

As the world begins its slow pivot from managing the Covid crisis to recovery and the reopening of economies, it is now becoming abundantly clear that the period of global lockdown has had a profound impact on how people live and consume. The new consumer behaviours span all area of life, from how we work to how we shop to how we entertain ourselves and how we pay. These rapid shifts have important implications for all type organizations.

Covid is transforming consumer habits so rapidly that all economic and social actors are struggling to adjust. It is still not entirely clear if behaviours are just going through a temporary phase or their new experiences will become permanent. However, regardless if these massive, sudden and transformative changes are temporary or not, these fluctuations will reshape consumer decision journeys and companies will need to adjust fast.

These phenomenal changes have created many winners as many losers, but the biggest loser has been the State, through its attempt to soften the negative impact of lockdowns and contagion. Many States lost tax receipts when at the same time had to increase spending to limit the negative effects of Covid.

A considerable amount of States in the developed word are dependent on tax receipts that are generated by the gambling industry. In 2020/21 betting and gaming tax receipts in the United Kingdom (UK) amounted to £2.8 billion British pounds, compared to the £3 billion in the previous year. That is approximately the equivalent of almost 4% the expenditure on education, or 8.5% on science or 7% on transportation.

Where does all that tax money go? It’s difficult to track down where all of those duties go; probably they’re mixed together in the government’s annual budget and spent on whatever the government needs to spend them on but they are vital. Hm Revenue and Customs (Hmrc), the British agency that collects taxes, has announced that the total tax revenue from April 2020 to March 2021 driven by gambling establishments was £2.83 billion, which is a drop of £182 million (6%) compared to tax revenue from the previous fiscal year. The fact that the industry was still able to cobble together a respectable £2.83 billion in tax revenue is a testament to the power of the online and remote industries. Hmrc recorded a 25% increase in tax receipts from Remote Gaming Duties (RGD), an increase of £179 million to £885 million.

Rgd operations came up as clear winners of the epidemic period, but to have winners you also need losers and the losers were land-based gambling operations. Taxes on land-based casinos plunged by a spectacular 62%, and in-person machine gaming duties were also down 44% over that time period.

Of the various sectors of the UK’s betting and gaming industry, Lottery Duty (Ld) proved to be the highest income generator for Hmrc, recording provisional receipts of £980 million, up £12 million on 2019/2020 results, an increase of 1%. The largest lottery operator, the National Lottery (Nl), keeps 1% of the money it generates as profit while 4% goes to funding operating costs. The rest is distributed to winners or used to fund worthy causes in the country. Over £43 billion has been spent on “Good Causes” to date.
The distribution to public funds is broken down by category, and those categories are as follows:

  • Health, education, environment, and charity: 40%
  • Sports: 20%
  • Arts: 20%
  • Heritage: 20%

How did gambling companies fare?
2020 was a bad year for the gambling industry in the UK, at least when compared to previous, non-pandemic years. Things were bad for the industry all over the world, though, with American casinos being hit hard as well. Remote and online betting represented the largest sectors of the industry, with total wagers of £3.1 billion, or 52.3% of the overall market. That includes all online wagers, as well as racetrack betting.
The National Lottery was the second-largest earner in terms of gross gaming yield (Ggy) at £1.6 billion. In-person betting was third, at £629.3 million, with machines making up just shy of half that figure at 48.5%.

These numbers represent the official government figures as reported by all industry sources. However, there are more recent totals that have been reported by casino operators; these are mainly online casinos, although there is a smattering of land-based data included as well. While these are unofficial figures, they can be useful for providing an idea of whether there will be any shifts or surprises for 2021.

These unofficial findings come on the heels of back-to-back reports from January and February that showed that Ggy across the industry decreased by 19% compared to the months immediately preceding. While this may seem to be troubling for the industry at large, it should be noted that land-based casinos were in varying degrees of lockdown. Also, session length increased by 4% from December to February, indicating that the desire to play was still strong among the gambling public.

This is where the operator data from late 2020 and early 2021 is especially valuable. The fact that unofficial reports indicate that revenues are down month-to-month show that the tail end of 2020 may be even worse than the first few months, dragging Ggy down even further.
Covid-19 has forced the cancellation of several high-profile sporting events, each of which would have driven a substantial amount of betting revenue. The Grand National Horse Race was a notable exception, and the revenue driven by that event shows just how much of an impact a popular sporting event can have on the gambling industry. It is expected that Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics will bring a welcome revenue stream to betting operators.

Is the online market the only game in town?
The fact that lockdowns have prevented many land-based casinos from servicing players at all has driven those same players towards online alternatives. According to data from Google Trends, more people in the UK searched online for the term “casino” in the spring of 2020 than at any other time on record. Online and remote gambling has enjoyed significant growth in recent years — as much as 20% in some years — but they haven’t been immune to the effects of the pandemic. Their revenues were down 6% in terms of Ggy — but again, there is likely more to those numbers than meets the eye.

Slots are, by far, the most popular game in online establishments in the UK. Slots account for as much as 69.3% of all the money wagered on internet sites, which makes up as much as £2.2 billion of the total Ggy. Roulette and blackjack were also popular with online gamblers, representing 14% and 6% of the online Ggy, respectively. However, besides slots, bingo enjoyed the most growth, garnering nearly £177 million in 2020.

The problem is that the Uk Gambling Commission lumps both remote and online gambling together. While online revenues are almost certainly up significantly, the numbers are likely being dragged down by Covid-19-related closures of bookies and other remote gambling establishments. The previously mentioned cancellation of sporting events severely impacted this as well. Regardless, though, it certainly appears that online gaming is not only here to stay, but also growing faster its land-based counterpart and this is where the growth of tax revenue will come from.

What does the future look like?
The future remains in flux, due to concerns over both the frustrating persistence of the Covid-19 virus and uncertainty as to how the public will respond when lockdowns are finally lifted for good. However, all the signs point to a gambling industry that’s healthy yet dormant, and if that’s the case, a wide-open future should be very lucrative. The UK has long been filled with enthusiastic gamblers, and despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, many are still finding ways to wager on their games of choice.

For many, this means transitioning (at least partially) to online or remote establishments, where they can play in both comfort and safety. It’s likely that many of these punters will continue to play online well after lockdown conditions have been lifted, and some may choose to play on the internet exclusively.

While that may be bad news for land-based casinos, it may not have too much of an impact on the industry as a whole. Gambling revenues should continue to rise slowly and steadily, and if brick-and-mortar establishments can develop ways to compete with their online counterparts in terms of variety, value, and convenience, the entire industry could be buoyed by the results and the taxman can only rejoice.