Under 15 10.9m
Aged 15-64 41.5m
Urban population 80 percent
Major cities London (8.6m), Birmingham (2.3m), Manchester (2.2m)
GDP per capita $34,800
Business climate The prominent role played in the UK’s highly-developed economy by financial services meant that the country felt the effects of the economic downturn, although it still fared far better than the “basket case” European economies. Radical spending cuts planned by the current coalition government are also apparently having an effect on consumers’ pockets. It is uncertain when strong growth will return. However, there remains considerable affluence, although averages sometimes mask regional disparities. Entry into the eurozone is not likely in the foreseeable future. The country has a healthy content-production sector which exports worldwide, and many innovative technology businesses.
Note The United Kingdom comprises England (the largest and most populous component), Scotland (with increasing autonomy and eventual full independence not an impossible prospect), Wales and Northern Ireland. The Isle of Man, Channel Islands and Gibraltar – all important bases of the online gaming industry – are not technically part of the UK and hence their regulatory framework differs. The Republic of Ireland is an entirely separate country.
The amusements sector
In 2009-10, according to regulator the Gambling Commission, the total gaming sector in the UK was worth £5.7bn (the value of the gross gaming yield, or stakes less payouts). This was down one percent on the previous year.
Eight percent of this, or £456m, came from amusement arcades. (The lion’s share – 52 percent – was derived from betting, and the balance was from casinos, bingo, lotteries, and remote gambling.)
The amusement arcades sector is broken down into two categories: adult gaming centres (AGCs) and family entertainment centres (FECs), targeted at the different markets that their names suggest. At 31 March 2010, there were 612 AGCs and 274 FECs licensed. However, the revenue share of AGCs is disproportionately high, with this sector accounting for 81 percent of arcade earnings.
Both anecdotal and statistical evidence suggest that the number of arcades is decreasing sharply. In 2010, compared with 2009, there were about three percent fewer licences for adult gaming centres and 14 percent fewer for family entertainment centres. (By contrast, the number of licences for remote gambling grew by nearly 22 percent.)
Factors include the decline of seaside resorts – traditionally a popular location for arcades – although the new popularity of the “staycation” may go a little way toward reversing this decline, and of course the increasing competition from other leisure activities, including online.
Machines are divided into categories from B1 to D. By far the most common are Category B2 fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) and Category C low-stake, low-payout AWPs. In total, in March 2010 there were just under 145,000 gaming machines across Britain, with 32,000 of these falling into B2 and 51,000
As well as in amusement arcades, gaming machines are commonly found in betting shops, bingo halls, and pubs.
Also popular are SWPs, mostly offering quiz or word games. These are not regulated by the Gambling Commission although the regulator has acted in cases where it believes that machines presented as SWPs are in truth AWPs and thus should be subject to its rules.
Gaming: the big picture
The most authoritative figures on gaming in Britain come from the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey, published by the regulator, the Gambling Commission.
Seventy-three percent of British people aged over 16 gambled in some way in the year preceding the survey – around 35.5m individuals. That is roughly comparable with the rate measured of 72 percent in 1999, and up on 2007’s 68 percent.
Overall, gaming is on the increase among both women and men. The proportion of women taking part has grown from 65 percent in 2007 to 71 percent in 2010; for men, the figures are 71 percent in 2007 and 75 percent in 2010.
Many of those, however, had only participated in the National Lottery draw. Excluding those people from the total, 56 percent of adults took part in some form of gambling.
What they play
The National Lottery is the most popular form of gambling, played by 59 percent of all Britons. It is followed by other lotteries at 25 percent and scratch-cards at 24 percent.
Next most popular is betting on horse racing, at 16 percent. Then come slots, at 13 percent; private betting, at 11 percent; and bingo and sports betting, both at nine percent.
Casino games were played by five percent in the year prior to the survey; fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT) were used by four percent, also the same proportion that played football pools, bet on dog racing or bet on non-sports events.
At the bottom of the table come online slot and instant-win games, played by three percent; pub or club poker, played by two percent; and spread betting, which attracted just one percent of the population.
Many forms of gaming are on the increase. Sports betting with a bookmaker on events other than horse and dog races soared, now involving nine percent of adults against three percent in 1999. Entering lotteries other than the National Lottery engaged a full 25 percent of consumers in 2010, but just eight percent in 1999.
The popularity of slots seemed to be decreasing slightly, involving 13 percent of adults against 14 percent in both 2007 and 1999. Unexpectedly, online slot and instant-win games have actually decreased in popularity since 2007 too, with involvement falling from four to three percent. The major loser, however, was football pools, down from nine percent in 1999 to four percent.
British gamers’ activity is overwhelmingly offline. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed said they only gambled offline, while just two percent were exclusively online players. The balance, 17 percent, did both. And in no category of gaming did the number of online participants come close to exceeding the number of offline players.
Unsurprisingly, casino gaming was the form most likely to take place online, with 27 percent of those who took part doing so exclusively on the Internet, and a further 12 percent mixing Internet play with visits to bricks-and-mortar venues.
Sports betting and betting on non-sports events were also relatively popular online, with 27 and 21 percent of players respectively placing some of their bets online. However, betting on horse and dog races was more likely to be an offline-only activity; only 12 and seven percent of participants, respectively, used online.Twenty percent of bingo players took part online at least some of the time. In total, 14 percent of British adults had used the Internet to gamble during the year.
Most gambling in Britain is a casual activity, with the participant committing large amounts of neither money nor time to it.
And for most people – 82 percent – their level of gambling activity remained much the same between the beginning and end of the year. Only four percent said they were gambling more, while 13 percent said they were gambling less. The principal reasons for change included having more or less money or free time, and access to gambling opportunities.
The main motives for gambling were to win large amounts of money (83 percent of those who took part), fun (78 percent) and excitement (51 percent).
Demographics of gamblers
Gambling is most common among the 44-to-64 age group, and least common among the very oldest and very youngest age groups.
Insofar as there is a typical gambler, he or she is married or divorced, white, not educated beyond GCSE (age 16) level, and employed in a lower supervisory or technical role. Those who only play for high stakes, however, are more likely to be university graduates.
Men are only slightly more interested in gambling than women – 75 percent of men, against 71 percent of women, had taken part during the year.
But in nearly every category men outnumbered women, most notably in playing football pools (eight percent of men against just one percent of women), sports betting (16 percent against two percent), and pub/club poker and spread betting, which were entirely male pursuits.
Sixteen percent of men played slots, against ten percent of women, and seven percent of men played FOBTs while they attracted just two percent of women.
The only categories where women were more likely to take part than men were scratch-cards (25 percent against 23 percent) and, true to cliché, bingo (12 percent against six percent).
Men also seek more variety in gambling than do women. Among people who gamble at all (rather than the general population), the men typically engage in three different activities each year, whereas women try 2.3.
Over the longer term, however, there seems to be more growth in gambling among women than among men. The proportion of women participating in 2010, 71 percent, was up on 1999’s 68 percent. But the proportion of men was actually down slightly, from 76 percent to 75 percent.
Attitudes to gambling
“As in 2007,” says the report, “the average view was that gambling was more harmful than beneficial and should not be encouraged.”
Nevertheless, the typical respondent did believe that individuals have a right to gamble, and was opposed to prohibition, and the report says: “Comparisons with 2007 show that overall attitudes to gambling in 2010 have become more positive. Although the overall viewpoint is still somewhat negative, it is less negative than previously, indicating that attitudes are changing.”
In particular, over-55s are becoming more tolerant of gambling as they themselves take part more often.
Attitudes were more positive among men, people of white ethnicity, and regular gamblers.
The prevalence of problem gambling in the adult British population was estimated by one measure to have risen to 0.9 percent, having been 0.6 percent in both 1999 and 2007, with the new figure equating to around 450,000 individuals.
By another measure, however, it was 0.7 percent, or 360,000 adults. The two measures, the report suggests, “are capturing slightly different people and different types of gambling-related problems”.
Problem gamblers were most likely to be male, to be younger, to smoke cigarettes, and to have parents who gambled regularly and had experienced problems with this. Asian ethnicity, unemployment and poor health were also associated with problem gambling.