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How COVID-19 is Affecting Gambling

The novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has devastated industries and economies all over the world. With restrictions on and actions taken on movement, social distancing, and lockdowns, it’s been almost impossible for many businesses to continue to operate.

Casinos are part of the entertainment industry which has been hit particularly hard. But how has gambling been affected overall and have any alternatives been found? That’s only one of the topics that we’ll be covering in this blog post.

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how covid19 is affecting gambling

Land-based Casino Closures

There are fewer land-based casinos in India compared to other countries in the world. There are only two states which permit land-based casinos to operate: casinos in Goa and Sikkim. Both of these Indian states were quick to close down their casinos already in March, along with other public places such as swimming pools, gyms, and cinemas.

This move by Indian states echoes the stance taken by countries all over the world. Due to the risks in allowing casinos to remain open, authorities took the decision to close the doors on the casinos.

Even the most famous gambling location in the world, Las Vegas, has shut down to allow COVID-19 to pass. The strip hasn’t been shut down since the state funeral of JFK in 1963, so the decision to close is monumental.

It hasn’t been without controversy: the mayor of Las Vegas opposed the governor’s decision to close for so long, instead preferring a short closure of just 7-10 days. However, in the face of spiralling figures and no signs of the curve flattening, the governor of Nevada extended the casino closure for Las Vegas for even longer.

The concern is that the longer the casinos remain closed, the higher the possibility of job losses locally in the state of Nevada. Casinos are able to access the emergency fund for businesses set up by the US government, but there has already been criticism of tax-payers money being used to prop up casinos.

The fund is an enormous $454 billion, out of a total $2 trillion relief plan announced, but this money has to be shared among all businesses.

Update: The floating casinos in Goa, as well as the hotel-casinos got a green light to reopen their operations on a 50% basis as from November 1. More on that here.

Land Based Casinos in Macau

Macau casinos are the exception as after a brief closure in February they have reopened. With over 40 casinos in the region, around 80% of the local economy is based on casino revenue. Remaining closed for the long-term would have a catastrophic effect on everyone who relies on casinos for income.

Even though the gaming halls are open again, it’s not business as usual. Tourists are not permitted to enter, for fear they might be importing the virus from overseas. Not that there are many tourists in Macau any more; figures estimate that tourism has dropped by approximately 98% compared to 2019. Inside the casinos, there are yet more restrictions. Half of the tables are closed to ensure players can maintain a proper distance and half of the seats are closed too.

As an example, although the baccarat tables are open, only four players will be permitted rather than the usual eight. There are also temperature checks, mandatory face masks, and a health declaration for both workers and guests alike to sign.

Cost – Way too high

The cost of keeping the casinos open has been high too. Just to keep everything running costs between $1.5 million and $4 million every day, while at the same time generating virtually no profit.

Despite these financial losses, Macau casinos will receive no assistance from the government. The relief being provided is being directed to workers and small businesses, with casinos expected to swallow any losses. Latest in however is that better days are ahead, and that travel restrictions to Macau might stop in December 2020.

Most Sports Events Cancelled

With more than two million people infected and tens of thousands of deaths, it was inevitable that sporting events would have to be cancelled. As play in various sports was temporarily ceased, the longer-term impact on significant events started to be realised.

During summer 2020, the Olympics was due to take place, an enormous global event which has now been postponed for a year – at least.

Football has been profoundly affected by a domestic and international level. Major sporting tournaments such as the Euros and Copa America have been deferred until 2021, while the Champions League, African Nations Championship and CONCACAF Nations League Finals have all been postponed or suspended.

Domestic leagues around the world were sidelined too, with authorities trying to figure out when it’s safe to return and how they’ll do so. Possibilities such as playing behind closed doors have been mooted, and agreements in many sports were settled and finalized around June – July.

In most countries, football training has cautiously resumed, but still subject to social distancing. This has made it difficult to carry out any meaningful practice but is helping to keep players’ fitness levels up.

It’s not just football and athletics that have been affected, however: motorsports, tennis, basketball, boxing, baseball, golf, cricket, hockey and horse racing are just some of the most popular sports which were cancelled or deferred for quite some time.

Luckily, all major sporting events are back to normal schedule and bets can be placed on some of the best betting sites.

The Impact on Online Gambling

With no sports being played, online gambling sites did not have too much to offer it’s customers besides casino gambling.

In most of India, it’s still illegal to bet at a land-based bookmaker or betting shop, but the law is very different for online play. Indian punters can place a bet with an international bookmaker based outside India without breaking any laws. Online gambling is however legal in India.

Some nations either imposed caps on betting or blocked it entirely for a limited time, such as Spain and Sweden.

Despite this, online casinos have seen a massive spike in online play with some reporting rises of up to 67%. Online card plays with live dealers have also seen a significant increase.

One provider, Global Poker, reported a spike of 43%. There was an especially big jump in first-time online poker players, with the number rocketing by 255%.

The Rise of Esports

Esports has gradually risen in popularity and prominence in recent years. LAN tournaments have become huge affairs, with players travelling considerable distances to meet up for play with other enthusiasts.

Although it’s not possible to hold large LAN tournaments, the development of technology and the prevalence of platforms such as Twitch and YouTube has meant it’s possible to still bet on the events. But in general, Esports did not take too much of a hit from the pandemic.

Technically, any type of online game could be included in esports, but those which are universally well-known tend to be the most popular. One of the top examples includes FIFA, a game that the vast majority of gamers and bettors alike will be familiar with.

Experts believe that there is such a stronghold of esports developing that even when the threat of the virus recedes, the passion will remain.

While esports will never be a complete replacement for real-life sport, it’s expected that the recent surge in interest will linger beyond COVID-19.

Tough Times Ahead?

Land based gambling firms are undoubtedly facing challenging times ahead, with many experiencing a significant chunk of their value being wiped off on the stock exchange.

Any gambling firm with a heavy reliance on land-based venues will have to swallow heavy losses which are unlikely to be offset by the increase in online play.

However, those who are solely or primarily associated with online casinos and card games could find that their fortunes move in the opposite direction, with more players than before signing up.

With indications that the lockdown and social distancing is liable to last for a considerable amount of time globally, gambling firms will have to adjust to a new world of esports and online play if they want to survive.

Last updated November 11th, 2020