The year 2020 has not been an easy one for countries all over the world, as many of them experienced forced closures on large economy sectors as part of their efforts to prevent the further spreading of the coronavirus infection. October’s announcement that Ireland would enter lockdown measures again came as a serious blow to all businesses that had started adjusting to the new reality after the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.
One of the sectors that have felt the negative effect of the unprecedented lockdown and social distancing measures in the extreme has been gambling. First, in March, the Government forced all casinos and betting shops in the country to cease operation as part of Ireland’s anti-coronavirus measures. After the announcement of a second lockdown in October, many of land-based gambling operators warned that some of them may resume operation never again.
Retail Gambling Operators in Ireland Seriously Affected by Covid-19 Lockdown Measures in 2020
The lockdown measures have been a serious hurdle for retail gambling operators so far in 2020. Even BoyleSports, one of the largest gambling and sports betting companies in the country, has warned that the restrictions brought to the industry’s operation would have quite a negative impact on its performance.
Currently, some of the biggest gambling operators in the country, such as BoyleSports and Ladbrokes, own the majority of the estimated 80 betting shops situated on the territory of Ireland. This makes their presence in the country’s gambling market safer in comparison to the ones of many smaller companies but it turns out the coronavirus lockdown has hurt all of them. A BoyleSports spokesperson described the latest lockdown as devastating, especially considering the fact that the company had invested more than €1 million to make its Irish betting shops a safe environment for its customers.
The largest sportsbook in Ireland has invested in the installation of hand sanitising stations, plastic barriers, as well as social distancing measures to make sure only a limited number of customers are allowed into the betting outlets simultaneously. The measures have been both expensive and time-consuming and were necessary as part of the Government’s requirements to allow gambling businesses to continue offering their services even at a limited capacity. Following the announcement for the October closures, BoyleSports warned that another lockdown could result in permanent closures and massive job losses across the industry.
The Covid-19-related restrictions hit smaller gambling operators even harder. Some independent betting shops do not have the resources and financial stability of their bigger rivals and have been seriously affected.
At the time when the latest lockdown measures were unveiled, the Irish Bookmakers Association (IBA) warned that the new closures would put at stake the survival of many small gambling businesses. A representative of the Association explained that big operators can rely on revenue streams generated by their online sports betting services but the lockdown measures were a serious huddle for gambling companies that only have a retail presence in the country.
Could Online Gambling Save the Day for the Irish Gambling Sector?
The warnings of the retail gambling sector for struggling operations during the coronavirus closures only highlighted the importance of online gambling in the times of unprecedented restrictions faced by the entire industry.
The performance of land-based casinos and betting shops was shaken by the lockdown, as they were forced to shut their doors for the first time in March. Several months later, with they being pressed to cease operation again, Irish gambling operators were unable to say how many of them may never be able to resume their work.
According to experts, casualties are inevitable in Ireland’s gambling sector, considering the fact there was more than one lockdown and the venues have been closed for six weeks as part of the latest Level 5 coronavirus restrictions.
For the time being, almost 650 out of the almost 800 betting outlets are being operated by the three largest gambling chains in the country, including Paddy Power, Ladbrokes and Boylesports. The first lockdown seriously affected the industry, but the impact that another six weeks of closed doors have been described as a massive blow for the sector.
The online presence of the larger companies would give them an advantage to their smaller rivals. Unfortunately, the effect of the coronavirus lockdowns could be devastating for some bookmakers that are only restricted on retail presence. This situation has also been quite worrying for the companies’ staff, with the chairperson of the IBA saying that a third lockdown would be hardly survivable.
As Casino Guardian has previously reported, online gambling is already playing an important role in keeping the industry afloat at the time the novel coronavirus has hit all economy sectors not only in Ireland but worldwide. What could be seen as a light in the tunnel, is the fact that no matter how hard the situation is for gambling companies, an increasing number of customers have turned their eyes to the online gambling services many operators already offer. Even at a time when all major sporting events had been postponed or put off, customers have still been betting on some niche sports on a global scale, as well as esports events and tournaments.
Considering the major impact coronavirus lockdown has been having on the Irish gambling industry during 2020, the impact on the sector is expected to continue in 2021, too. The future is hard to predict but experts are still monitoring the sector closely and they are expected to continue doing so in the months to come.