On March 19, 2019, a post titled “Why do betting sites show such massive betting activity on mobile games?” was published on the website of the New York Times, arguing that the unprecedented volume of mobile wagering observed on gambling websites during the height of the pandemic is “highly improbable” and “defies explanation”. The article suggests that the sudden increase in mobile wagering is a function of several factors, including:
- The rise of the “gamblification” of daily life;
- The increase of international travel during the pandemic; and
- The emergence of “social distancing” and “digital nomads”, who are playing and betting online because they cannot meet up with other people.
While there is certainly a case to be made that the pandemic had some role to play in the rise of mobile wagering, the article’s central thesis is quite dubious. Namely, that the volume of mobile wagering observed on gambling websites during the pandemic was practically inevitable, and the result of pure chance. In reality, the opposite seems to be true. For instance, consider the role that mobile phones and the internet have played in recent months in the proliferation of online poker.
The Role Of Mobile Phones In The Proliferation Of Online Poker
In 2018, amid the global pandemic, the amount of money wagered on online poker platforms increased by 23% year-over-year, according to figures from Statista. It appears that a significant chunk of that growth came from mobile phones. Specifically, the share of wagers made on mobile phones more than doubled, rising from 16% to 36% among US adults.
What’s interesting is that this 36% figure represents a rather significant growth rate even considering that online poker isn’t exactly a popular pastime. For instance, the 36% growth rate is higher than the 19% increase in the share of Americans who said they played poker in the past year. It’s also significantly higher than the 15% increase in the past year in the share of US adults who said they played any type of casino game.
In terms of why mobile phones are playing such an important role in the growth of online poker, consider the following:
- The ease of accessing online poker through mobile phones makes it accessible to more people;
- The prevalence of mobile phones and fast internet speeds make it possible to maintain a close connection with players at all times; and
- The portability of mobile phones makes it easy for people to bring the game along on the go.
In the fight against COVID-19, limiting the spread of the virus is of paramount importance. Limiting the spread of the virus can help mitigate some of the damage done by the pandemic, and allow the world to get back to some semblance of normality.
The Rise Of The “Gamblification” Of Daily Life
A 2018 YouGov survey of more than 14,000 adults in the US revealed that almost half (48%) of American adults said they had regularly engaged in “game playing” (i.e. using tools like Pardner, Fantasy Labs, etc. to compete against other users) in the past year. That’s more than double the share (23%) who said they had visited an online casino in the last year.
And it’s important to note that, for the most part, these games are not visible to the public. As the YouGov report states, “Only 16% of adults said they had interacted with games or activities that were visible to other people”. Furthermore, only 4% of American adults said they had interacted with games or activities that were available only to people inside a specific household. These types of games typically operate behind the scenes, and require specialized software to play.
These findings suggest that game playing is on the rise, and is becoming a significant part of everyday life for millions of Americans.
Increased Inter-Country Travel In The Wake Of The Pandemic
Travel restrictions implemented during the pandemic have forced millions of Americans into hunkering down at home, limiting the out-of-home experiences that they could normally enjoy. It’s quite possible that this significant change in behavior has increased the interest Americans have in online gaming. In particular, some of the world’s wealthiest individuals are enjoying the simplicity and security of online casinos during these challenging times. For instance, the owner of the Boston Celtics, Wyc Gashule, recently bought a mansion in Palm Beach worth $30 million just so he could play poker there.
According to figures collected by the United Kingdom’s Global Poker Industry, across-country gaming increased by 24% in 2019, with international mobile wagering worth a whopping $34 billion. This increase in cross-border play is quite likely the result of inter-country travel restrictions, as well as the desire for online anonymity. This anonymity allows a player to explore games from anywhere in the world, with access to thousands of different games.
Emergence Of “Digital Nomads” And “Social Distancing”
Another factor that may have played a significant role in the growth of mobile wagering is the emergence of the “digital nomad” and “social distancing”. In 2018, the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund published a special report, suggesting that the internet and mobile phones could play a “transformative role” in the post-pandemic world. Specifically, the ability to conduct business remotely, coupled with the growing popularity of online gaming, could empower a new generation of “digital nomads” — independent workers who travel from job to job, or project to project, for extended periods of time.
This newfound flexibility could potentially transform the way we work and interact with one another. It could help “digital nomads” avoid getting dependent on one client or project, allowing them to scale up or down their work schedule as needed. Furthermore, the ability to work remotely could also increase the effectiveness of social distancing measures. For example, a business owner who decides to close down their company’s physical location, and instead works remotely, will automatically protect their employees from getting sick, while also ensuring that they don’t have to mix with the public, and put themselves at risk of contracting the virus.
Why Is Mobile Gaming More Popular Now?
Nowadays, mobile gaming is more popular than ever before. As of May 2019, there were more than 3.84 billion active monthly users on mobile gaming platforms, according to Statista. That’s an increase of 43% year-over-year. And while other platforms like PCs and tablets have seen a steady decline in active users, mobile gaming continues to grow.
It’s quite possible that the sudden rise in mobile wagering we’re seeing was a function of several interrelated factors. However, considering the sheer number of potential players, the fact that mobile phones are frequently used as a tool to access gaming sites, and the portability of these devices, it’s quite evident that mobile gaming has always been a “next-gen” platform, and will continue to grow, even after the pandemic.