The gambling world has shifted gears since the COVID-19 pandemic, with more people turning to online platforms to place their bets. The popularity of online betting led to a significant rise in so-called cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which some people have touted as an investment opportunity. Amidst the market volatility that resulted from the pandemic, a safe haven in the form of traditional investments like stocks and bonds emerged as an attractive alternative.
As the world shifted to a digital sphere during the pandemic, so did gambling. Though states had shuttered their brick-and-mortar casinos, online gambling platforms surged in popularity. The industry grew by 24% in 2020, with many sites going beyond the traditional betting markets to offer a broader array of games. In the UK, for example, bet365 launched the UK’s first official esports betting site in 2019, followed by Unibet’s 2019 UK Expansion. In the United States, DraftKings, one of the largest online gambling platforms, bought out Fantasy Sports Today in an all-stock merger in April 2021.
While traditional markets took a significant hit during the pandemic—with the MSCI World Index falling by 30%—investment opportunities saw significant price fluctuations. The S&P 500 dropped by 22% in 2020, as the cryptocurrency markets fell from over US$20,000 to under $7,000 per coin, representing a 98% decline. During the following months, the cryptocurrency markets gradually recovered, only to plunge again, this time much more dramatically, when the next wave of the pandemic broke out in the summer of 2021.
The gambling industry has adapted to this increased volatility, implementing new strategies and technologies to attract bettors. For example, to reduce the risk of infection, many sites limit the amount of contact that a user has with other individuals, whether through in-play chat, email, or telephone. The industry also saw a rise in so-called crypto-gamblers, particularly in the United States, whose familiarity with and comfort in the crypto-sphere made them more likely to engage with a risky, yet exciting, investment opportunity. Finally, as gambling turned to the digital sphere, new technology platforms arose that offered a more secure and reliable way to place bets. These platforms, such as Chyngone, utilized smart contracts to eliminate the risk of fraud, with the result being more confident and consistent wagers as compared to traditional sites that rely on back-office teams to monitor betting activity.
Emergence of Professional Gambling
Though the numbers might not seem significant, the emergence of professional gambling in the twenty-first century is a significant development in the industry. Professional gamblers are individuals who make a living wage directly from gambling, often running large and complex sportsbooks or placing bets for wealthy individuals and businesses. Though they might not always disclose their true identity while placing wagers for others, they do so knowingly, with the result being a more professional and less scrupulously honest industry.
The result of all of this adaptation and change is a gambling industry that is more professional and effective than ever before. The industry saw an overall revenue increase of 12% in 2020, fuelled in part by the increased popularity of esports betting, which grew by 59% in 2020 alone.
Odds and stats are one thing, but the true measure of a sportsbook’s success is how they perform in the real world. The volume of money wagered, the range of games offered, and the consistency of the results matter far more than the numbers alone. During the 2021 season, many of these metrics improved, with the UK’s biggest bookmaker, Paddy Power, stating that overall customer satisfaction, as measured by the number of calls made, increased by 17% in the first quarter of 2021.
Though the industry saw unprecedented gains during this period, the end of April 2021 brought the market’s worst month in over a decade. On 30th April, the S&P 500 declined by 22%, the largest percentage drop since the Great Recession of 2008. Since then, the cryptocurrency markets have declined by 75%, with Bitcoin’s price falling from nearly $20,000 per coin to just under $6,000. Though the recent market fluctuations are disheartening, they demonstrate the ever-evolving nature of the industry.