It is fair to say that betting is now more widespread than ever before. Gone are the days when gamblers had to endure finding late night corners of cities in order to play roulette or blackjack. Casinos are big business, and most large towns will have a casino located within easy reach.
Visiting a casino is no longer seen as something slightly shameful, that polite company would shun. Instead, visiting casinos is now a mainstream social activity. Punters can also find more bookmaker’s shops than ever, with a greater range of gambling options now on offer at your average high street bookie than ever before, with fixed odds terminals and poker machines now available in many.
The massive growth of the online gambling sector has also seen a massive change in how people gamble. Being able to play casino games, bingo and slots games online has opened up a massive new demographic, and could be said to have truly democratised the gambling industry, making it accessible to anyone over legal gambling age.
The rise of women as players
This means that there are increasing numbers of women playing casino games, as well as people who in bygone days would not have been exposed to casino gaming at all. This can be seen in much of the television advertising which now promotes online casinos. There has been a real change in how female-focused much of this advertising is. Casino games have become a fun and socially acceptable activity to fill someone’s spare time.
It is difficult to comprehend just what a massive change this has been, and how quickly it has happened. Here, we’ll have a closer look at how the growth of online casinos has altered the gambling industry in Australia, and why there is no going back now.
Although, we have to start by going back to where it began, in the United Kingdom.
History of casinos in the United Kingdom
Casinos in Britain have a history which stretches back to the 17th century. At this time, licences for ‘gaming clubs’ were given to gentleman’s clubs, and were awarded according to criteria centred on the social status of the owner. An individual called the Royal Groom
Porter was responsible for granting these licences.
Whites was the best known of these clubs, opening in opened in 1652 by an Italian, Francesco Bianco, and was originally a coffee shop. By 1698, the venue had acquired something of an iconic status. Gaming houses would develop over the next couple of centuries, becoming an accepted part of British life, for the upper classes anyway.
Almack’s (later known as Brook’s) opened in 1764, and became known as a haunt of the Whig politicians of the time, such as Charles Fox, Horace Walpole and William Pitt. In 1827, Crockford’s opened, and became the most famous gambling club in the nation, attracting famous members such as the Duke of Wellington. It was founded by William Crockford, who was born in 1775.
Wellington became the chairman of the club’s management committee, and the Earl of Sefton was a founder member. Aimed squarely at the upper classes, 1,200 members paid the £25 a year membership fees – which after inflation and currency exchange would be around $6,152 AUD – a significant sum in those days. That kind of money was inaccessible to the vast majority of British citizens at that time, and legal
restrictions were also in place to prevent the poor from gambling.
New laws democratise casinos
Britain was deeply unequal and divided society in the early 19th century. Games such as roulette and dice were actually banned, but went on as usual for the rich in the gentleman’s clubs. The working classes did most of their gambling in illicit venues, known as ‘copper hells’.
The illicit nature of these venues meant that they were often associated with vice and crime.
This association continued for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, with the Gaming Act of 1845 intended to discourage betting. It did this largely by means of making a wager an unenforceable contract, a legal situation which would persist until 2002. Gambling was a long way from being seen as the kind of socially acceptable practice that it is today. It was a late-night, sleazy activity, and, due to its illegal or quasi legal nature, was very difficult for honest members of society to access.
Gambling of all kinds would be associated with gang warfare in the early part of the 20th century. From Vegas to Britain, those who were involved with the casinos or gambling establishments had dealings with criminal activity too.
The next major liberalisation of gambling laws occurred in the 1960s. The Betting and Gambling Act of 1960 allowed commercial bingo halls to be established. In 1968, the Gaming Act was passed, which introduced the licensing of commercial casinos. But it was the coming of the internet in the 1990s which would really bring seismic change to the UK casino industry.
New audiences have been inspired by the internet
In 1996, Inter Casino was launched, which was the first online casino wordwide. The growth of online gambling helped to trigger a re-evaluation of the gambling industry in the Britain, with the UK Gambling Act being passed in 2005. The UK Gambling Commission was also founded at this time, to oversee the majority of gaming in Britain. Membership is no longer required at casinos from this point onwards.
This established the ground for a new swelling of interest in gambling and gaming in Britain, as the activity went mainstream, and largely escaped the seedy and sleazy associations it had had since the 18th century. The Act also liberalised the regulations surrounding advertising in the gambling industry. Since then, the number of television adverts promoting gambling products and services has risen massively, and helped to make gambling a mainstream part of British life.
Indeed, between 2005 and 2012 the number of adverts for gambling companies on British television doubled. The proportion of adverts devoted to gambling on TV rose from 0.5 per cent to 4.1 per cent in that same period. Anyone who turns on a TV set in Britain these days will not have to wait long until they see an advert for a bookmaker or casino, with a plethora of welcome bonuses being dangled before their eyes, in an effort to entice them to sign up.
Playing in comfort at home
The growth of online gaming allowed people to bet and play casino games from the comfort of their own home. This massively changed the outlook of traditional bookmakers and casinos, whose business model prior to the advent of the internet had centred on tempting customers into their betting shops and other venues.
By 2013-2014, according to a study, gambling expenditure in Australia had increased from $21.114 billion to $22.734 billion. Furthermore, gambling per adult had increased to $1,241.86 – from $1,171.09 in the previous year. Electronic games had pulled in an incredible $11.589 billion, according to figures from Australia’s responsible gambling commission.
But much of that revenue was being horded offshore, at least as far as the Australian Government was concerned, and they decided to act. A more general impulse towards condemnation of tax avoidance was growing in Australian society at the time, too, with the moral implications of avoiding tax at a time of general austerity being added to the wider debate. The Australian Government decided to act to close the tax loopholes that many gambling companies enjoyed by being based overseas.
The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act of 2014 also altered how online casino companies paid tax. Many operators had moved their offices to places like Gibraltar in order to avoid paying taxes on their profits. The new Point of Consumption (POC) tax that the Act introduced meant that companies were compelled to pay tax in the territory where their customers were based, rather than their company. This new regulation means that companies must pay 15 per cent of their gross revenue to the Australian Government, in addition to holding a licence from the Gambling Commission.
Internet improves accessibility
This development of the online gaming sector was particularly significant in adding a major demographic to the customer base of casinos. In the old days, women were not generally seen as being a significant part of the gambling industry. Cultural and social norms, as well as the
old fashioned associations of traditional casinos, kept the female half of the population, generally speaking anyway, away from gambling.
Being able to play at home changed that, though. In addition, the accessibility of online gambling products changed too. Slots games are very simple to play, and people who would not normally be considered as potential punters could suddenly start playing immediately, with no arcane or complex knowledge of game rules or systems needed.
This kind of customer has been tempted in with free spins, bonus credit and a host of other promotional tools. In an age of ever more sophisticated data capture and analysis technology, it has become a relatively simple process to refine marketing strategies and to develop products which target specific groups. This has helped bring yet more people, especially women, into the fold.
This process can be seen in the branding of many casinos. Recently we have seen bingo operators clearly tailored their TV advertising campaign to women. Many online gambling companies offer a vision of sociability, sharing and light-hearted fun in their TV and online advertising campaigns now. This marks a significant way from the manner in which casinos were promoted a couple of decades ago.
This diversifying of target demographics is not limited to women, either. There has been a massive move towards including a greater range of people in general in the potential market for casinos. Gambling companies have been able to perceive that many people would enjoy their products and services, if only they had a reason for doing so. A massive help in diversifying the market available to online casinos has been the development of mobile and digital technology.
Using technology to tempt new customers
Slots games offer huge jackpots, and this, combined with the low stakes required to play the games, have helped drive their massive increase in popularity. More players also mean more money for casino companies to put into their jackpots. Jackpot prizes can now reach seven figures, which is a powerful incentive for anyone to play, especially when so little prior knowledge is required, unlike sports betting.
Online casinos are not bound by floor space, either, so the range of games they can offer is massive. Unlike a real, bricks and mortar casino, there is no need to hang around waiting for certain games, for access to things like blackjack and poker tables. The Return to Player (RTP) percentages can also be much higher at an online casino, rather than at a ‘real’ casino. In a casino, the RTP for most slots games is typically around 85 per cent. Online casinos can afford to offer a much higher RTP percentage than that, with it often being as high as 97 per cent.
The growth of mobile gaming
One of the main triggers for growth in the last decade or so has been the rapid development of mobile phone technology. Most mobile devices are now powerful computers in their own right, capable of handling multiple complex apps. This has been a real boost to the gambling industry, who have shaped their products to this technology, and changed the face of online gambling again.
Mobile technology allowed online gaming to be taken to another level. Mobile devices possess one major selling point: convenience. It is possible to access masses of entertainment and content from a device which can be carried around in someone’s pocket. For example, playing your favourite slot games at Lucky Nugget Casino, is literally only a few clicks away at any moment.
This has allowed games developers to appeal to ever more sharply defined niche audiences with new products and apps. Sports betting, in particular, has seen an explosion in popularity, largely thanks to the prevalence of mobile devices. By 2018, mobile gaming is expected to reach a 40 per cent market share of the total online gaming industry.
Much of the challenge up to now for developers of mobile gambling apps has been how to recreate a quality gaming experience on a small screen. With fewer optimisation features available, and much smaller screen space available, innovation has had to move quickly in this sector. Native apps work well for customers in this regard, and also provide additional features such as notifications of new games or bonuses, which keeps players coming back for more. The apps can also be linked to deals at real life casinos, with several companies operating online and in the real world, once more highlighting the overlap between online gaming and bricks and mortar casinos.
Conclusion: Where we Stand, what for the future
We have now reached a point where casino gaming has become an accepted part of regular life, making up a substantial chunk of the economy. Potential casino customers see television and online advertising promoting casino gaming every day. The numbers of customers are growing all the time, with the rise marching hand-in-hand with the rise in numbers of people with access to mobile devices.
This widespread accessibility, thanks to the internet and mobile technology, brings moral issues as well as cash for the gaming companies
to consider. There are age verification and other legal issues which must be dealt with, as well as the morality of allowing vulnerable people access to basically unlimited gambling.
New challenges to meet
But these challenges are being met by the industry, which is developing new technology and new protocols all the time to protect customers. Punters can self-limit on their accounts, and extensive support resources are provided on most casino websites. The internet has allowed the industry to mature, in this regard.
We now stand on the cusp of another era of massive growth for the online casino and gambling industry. That the rise of online casinos has been accompanied by a commensurate rise in the numbers of visitors to real casinos, the industry seems poised for huge further growth. This is sure to raise questions about licensing, taxation of revenue from ‘offshore’ companies, and other issues which will be up for further debate.
But the way in which the casino industry has changed, grown and diversified in recent years suggests that the flexibility and intelligence exists within the industry to meet these potential challenges. What is certain is that new products, new games and new technology will be developed, as mobile technology and bespoke marketing bring ever greater numbers of people online to play at casinos.