UK's biggest bookie makes £1.3bn as gamblers blow millions in lockdown

Fury at betting chiefs ‘cashing in on coronavirus’: UK’s biggest bookie makes £1.3bn as gamblers blow millions in lockdown

  • MPs and campaigners accused firms of taking advantage of coronavirus crisis
  • Flutter is the company that runs the Paddy Power, Betfair and SkyBet websites 
  • Users spent £219m on its online slot machines and casino games in lockdown

Britain’s biggest gambling firm yesterday faced claims of cashing in on coronavirus after customers spent £219million on its online slot machines and casino games in lockdown.

Flutter – which runs the Paddy Power, Betfair and SkyBet websites – said the staggering figure was a fifth higher than in the same period last year.

It sparked fears that tens of thousands of Britons will have become addicted to gambling in lockdown.

MPs and campaigners accused firms of taking advantage of the crisis to peddle their most addictive products. 

Flutter is set to make up to £1.3billion in profits this year, excluding its US business (file photo)

Tory Richard Holden, a member of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling, said: ‘We need proper regulation of this industry which has been cashing in on misery for years, and has doubled down during lockdown.’

Flutter is set to make up to £1.3billion in profits this year, excluding its US business. 

It said the amount spent on its PokerStars website was also up 75 per cent on last year as ‘people sought alternative forms of home entertainment’.

Chief executive Peter Jackson, who has earned £3.7million in the last two years, said: ‘The cancellation of sports and closure of our shops… was more than offset by an increase in the number of recreational customers playing our poker and gaming products globally.’

Campaigners have previously warned long periods stuck indoors would lead thousands to develop gambling problems (file photo)

GVC, which owns Ladbrokes Coral, has said its online takings were up a fifth in the first six months of this year. 

The amount William Hill’s customers spent online rose by a tenth.The brands also started offering punters the chance to bet on Russian table tennis and Belarusian football when other sports were cancelled.

Campaigners have previously warned long periods stuck indoors would lead thousands to develop gambling problems.

Last month the Mail reported that the number of addicts telling the Gordon Moody charity helpline that they felt suicidal had quadrupled since the start of lockdown.

There are 340,000 gambling addicts in the UK. Those playing web casino games and bingo are twice as likely to get hooked as those betting on sport, NHS data shows.

The growth of betting on mobiles, dubbed a 24/7 ‘casino in your pocket’, has sparked alarm. 

Matt Zarb-Cousin, of the Campaign for Safer Gambling, said: ‘Firms have exploited the lockdown, peddling the most addictive products which have no limits on the amount that can be staked.

‘The sector has cashed in from coronavirus. It’s time for the Government to limit the stakes online… otherwise we risk going from this pandemic into a problem gambling epidemic.’

It comes after the Advertising Standards Authority said gambling firms were still targeting ads at children’s websites.

Yesterday industry body the Betting and Gaming Council said it would put more stringent rules in place to protect under-18s. 

For example, those browsing YouTube will have to be age-verified to see gambling ads. Critics said it was just a bid to ward off harsher regulation.

Flutter said responsible engagement with customers was its ‘key focus’. It added: ‘We were particularly conscious of our heightened responsibility while stay-at-home restrictions were in place.’

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