Bingo. It’s as British as fish and chips, rainy weather and a keenness for queuing. Ever since the 1950s there were bingo halls up and down the country with millions of players descending on them almost every evening of the week. Although there are far fewer of the halls open today they have certainly seen a resurgence in the last few years. Many reasons have been put forward for this but one of the most likely has been the explosion of online bingo sites.
The very first ones of these started to appear towards the end of the 1990s. The subsequent twenty years have seen more and more open for business and today it is reckoned that
there are around 3.5 million players in the UK alone. While it’s hard to get precise figures for just bingo, in the latest report by the UK’s national regulator, the Gambling Commission, it stated that the remote betting sector including casino and bingo sites accounted for 37% of all gambling yield. At £5.3 billion for the year from April 2018 to March 2019 this is a considerable sum, and one which gives some idea about the current size of the industry.
However impressive a figure this may still be, it’s also worth noting that this is a marginal decline on the figure for the same period the year before. It might only be 0.6% smaller but it
has certainly flagged up some warning signs for the industry and generated a whole raft of measures designed to gain and retain new players now and into the future. One might expect that a decline in revenue could take some heat out the industry in general, but the opposite is true with many of the leading operators realising that they’ll have to up their games if they want to survive, let alone thrive.
Despite having had a good few years of growth for all of the first decade of the 21st century and much of the second, a piece of government legislation that came into for in 2017 changed the landscape appreciably for the operators. For a long time casinos and bingo sites had both relied on a number of incentives and marketing techniques in order to attract new players.
A taxing issue
These took various forms and one of them was a so-called no deposit bonus. This was effectively free stake money given to players to get them playing. For the online sites it was a great way to be seen to be offering a generous incentive that, for the players, amounted to being given free money. But the Finance Act of 2017 stated that these free bets should be treated as if they were paid bets and be taxed accordingly. This meant that from August of 2017 online bingo operators would have to pay 15% in betting duty on the “free” wagers they were giving away. Unsurprisingly, the number of no deposit offers
In the face of this legislation the other effect was that a considerable number of the smaller sites – 55 from a total of 421 – closed down. While not all of these closures were due to the new imposition of duty, a considerable number were. It also meant that the survivors had received clear notice that the environment had suddenly become considerably more challenging for them.
However, many decided that this form of incentive was such a strong draw for them that they would swallow the 15% tax and factor it into the business plan. So for bingo players today the presence of offers continues to be a big incentive and a deciding factor over where to play. To help them choose, there are a number of so-called affiliate sites that still give
operators pay more attention than ever to making sure those reviews are positive by improving the games and services that they offer.
New games, new experiences
This has also sparked some fierce competition in this area so there has also been a big effort made to increase the number and types that are available to play. Among the innovations that this have led to have been games with live callers as well as link games with far higher jackpots than ever before.
If one word in particular sums up everything that bingo is supposed to be, that word is “fun”. So there’s also great competition to be the brand that can decisively own this quality. You
Ironically, it’s also been the emergence of a whole new kind of live bingo events in nightclubs which may be influencing ways that the online sites are aiming to stand out. Probably the best known of these is Bongo’s that has been receiving ever since the very first of these events was held in a Liverpool nightclub in 2015. With dance-offs, karaoke and crazy prizes like life-size cut outs of celebrities it’s this kind of standout that the most successful online bingo sites are trying to emulate.
At the heart of it, these events are primarily social occasions and by building virtual online communities the bingo operators hope that the biggest and most cohesive social groups will give them the greatest success.
Looking a little to the future, there’s also serious competition to create the first virtual reality website and the winner in this particular race is destined to enjoy some instant success. Then, as experience has shown, it’s just a question of staying one step ahead of the competition – but that may be easier said than done.