Will iGaming in the US ever hit the heights they have in the UK?

Sep 25, 2020

This article is written and contributed by Justine Shaw and published in accordance with our disclosure policy.

As recently as twenty-five years ago, the concept of the iGaming was a relatively novel one. The thought that you could play casino games like roulette, blackjack, poker and even slots from the comfort of your own home was genuinely mold-breaking and extraordinary.
But fast forward to 2020 and the online casino is now intrinsically woven into the fabric of many nations and cultures – and it seems like it’s here to stay.

Of all the countries in the world, it’s arguably the UK that has embraced the online casino more closely than any other. The figures speak for themselves. According to the Gambling Commission, the body that has overseen the UK industry since 2007, between April 2018 and March 2019 the total gaming revenue was £14.4 billion ($17.5 billion). Of this £5.3 billion ($6.5 billion) was generated by the remote sector, the largest part of which consists of online casinos.

In terms of numbers, around 340 casinos are licensed in the UK. And if you add many more that operate under licenses from different gambling authorities including in Malta and the Channel Island of Jersey, the figure rises to well over 500.

The secrets of the UK’s success

When it comes to exactly what has made online casinos so very popular in the UK, several factors have played a part. The first is that the British have a long tradition of being fans of gambling in all its forms. For example, the first horseraces took place as long ago as the 17th century under the rule of Charles II. Today, horseracing is a huge multi-million-pound industry in the UK with showpiece races like the Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup attracting millions of pounds worth of bets from people drawn from all works of life.

Around a century after the first horserace, the first casinos started to appear, mainly as exclusive gentlemen’s clubs. But, into the 20th century, casinos became a form of entertainment open to all and today you’ll find the there are many in the major cities that are enjoyed by a wide range of people.

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So, with a natural propensity for enjoying sports and games of chance, as well as having a strong casino culture, it’s no wonder that the online equivalent has proved to be so very popular.

The operators of the online casinos have also had a major role to play in their huge popularity. They have consistently used the very latest technology to offer new games and playing experiences, as well as making very generous welcome bonus offers to attract new players.

Tech leads to success

A good example of the sort of technological innovation that has been used in the UK is the so-called “live casino”. Instead of playing against a computer program, live roulette and blackjack action is streamed to the player’s PC or mobile device. The action of the roulette wheel or the dealing of the cards is then digitized to allow the games to be played online. By capturing some of the excitement of a real casino experience, including the chance to chat with live dealers, with the convenience of online play it has proved to be a winning combination.

Another major contributing factor that has elevated the success of UK online casinos to the level they have reached today has been the rise of mobile gaming. In line with the general trend towards mobile internet use, now more people play at online casinos through this medium than through PCs and laptops.

Turning to the US, it’s a country that undeniably has an equally strong culture of gambling as the UK and many States boast casinos, with Nevada and New Jersey leading the way. There is no question that online gambling is on the rise in the US, particularly in New Jersey, where online casinos are the preferred choice for many due to the convenience and quality of games on offer.

But whether online casinos ever become quite as successful in the US as they are in the UK is open to debate. There are points to be made on both sides of the argument and the most obvious one to suggest a bright future is that Americans like technology. For evidence of this, you only have to look at the excitement that the arrival of a new iPhone or long-awaited video game generates.

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The fact that a large proportion of the population, away from the big cities, may live a considerable distance from a “bricks and mortar” casino also means that the ability to visit one remotely could prove to be a very good alternative. This will become especially true if the “live” online casino starts to take off in the big way that it has in the UK.

Going mobile

As already discussed, smartphone usage has also been key to the increasing popularity of online casinos in the UK and this could also prove to be critical in the US. With 5G now upon us, connection speeds will only get faster, and with an estimated 81% of all Americans owning smartphones a vast majority have potential access to online casinos.

On the other side of the debate, the online casino industry is at a very different stage of its development compared with the UK. There are far fewer operators to choose from and the marketing behind them is far less overt than in the UK. Over there, they are frequently advertised on TV and they are also heavily involved in sports sponsorship too. For example, the majority of soccer teams in the top two divisions of the league have online gambling companies as their shirt sponsors. There’s no denying that this level of exposure must surely have an effect.

So, looking ahead, there’s a great prize in store for any online casino operators who can make it big in the US. If the UK model could be emulated, it would mean that a generous proportion of the $80 billion + that is raised by gambling revenue each year would be heading in their direction. And, with a figure like this to consider, there really is everything to play for.

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