Credit: Ed Yourdon via Creative Commons

Virtual sports, bookies’ favourites over lockdown

By Jamie Byrne

Figures show a dramatic rise in stakes placed on virtual sports market over lockdown.

It’s a warm summer afternoon at Crown Park, the pixilated figures in the stands tense for what is undoubtedly going to be a mighty clash between two top-rated sides of Leicester United and Manchester Blues, honourably hosted by Irish bookmakers PaddyPower. I’ve decided to back a pound for the away side of Manchester Blues at the fairly low odds of 4/5, as they look to take the three points back to Lancashire and strive in the newly founded Super League. These two sides are obviously not to be mistaken with Leicester City and Manchester City. 

The game kicks off, and within seconds we are taken to a 90s-style video game picture, where the dark blue of Leicester United are advancing forward and end up scoring a lovely goal from the edge of the box by an unnamed attacker. However, once the second half starts up (also within seconds) Manchester Blues turn the game on its head with a penalty on the hour mark and a late winner from a corner, sealing the win for the Manchester side and rewarding me a sweet £1.80 – possibly the most I’ll ever pocket from writing an article. It was a very strange betting experience, a fully generated 90-minute game of football, all over within a minute. After some of the football I’ve watched this year, I do secretly wish some games would finish as quickly as that. 

This new matchday experience has become the norm for many punters during lockdown; the severe absence of football and the rest of sport has meant that the closest anyone could get to betting during the early stages of lockdown was through virtual sport. This form of betting has been aggressively marketed by the top bookmakers in the hope to keep the profits flowing. Clearly, they know their audiences well, considering the Gambling Commission announced an 88% increase in virtual bets in March this year compared to March last year. This rise has certainly been aided by the absence of live sport, as well as the extent of boredom experienced by Brits whilst being stuck at home and lusting over some sort of rush, which couldn’t be easier to find than through online sports gambling. 

With the majority of top online bookmakers offering virtual sports markets including football, horse racing, tennis, and motorsport, virtual sports gambling could not be any more attractive to fans who miss the rush of winning. The already simple accessibility of online betting, mixed with virtual sports events launching on average every three minutes, creates a recipe for success for bookmakers. 

Virtual sports betting was well and truly thrown into the mainstream by broadcaster ITV when they hosted the Virtual Grand National back in April this year. The Grand National has averaged an audience of around 6 million in the last decade, as well as smashing records in the 2019 Grand National with just under 100 million witnessing Tiger Roll be the first horse since Red Rum in 1974 to win back-to-back Grand Nationals. It was a shock win for outsider and 18-1 Potters Corner, which was spectated at home by 5 million self-isolating and socially distancing Britons, with all profits by bookmakers donated to NHS charities. These impressive numbers really hit home the extent to which sport and betting has been missed by the public during this pandemic. Virtual sports betting is certainly capable of filling in the gaping void of live sport and the ability to bet on it. 

I’m not even considering questioning the honesty of the virtual-generated gameplay that has been aggressively pushed by the top bookmakers, but more really pointing out how inappropriate and borderline immoral this betting market has become. As we enter our first recession in 12 years, this time of financial turmoil will bring about major hardship for an already struggling populous. The fact that everyone has been confined indoors, mixed with the inability to earn for a considerable amount of the nation, shows that this is possibly the most vulnerable our population has ever been. 

Online virtual sports betting is fuel to the fire at this current time, with MP Nigel Huddleston urging top executives of gambling companies to be more thorough with their promotion of safer gambling during this period of financial uncertainty. Those prone to gambling addictions are unfortunately set to face a mighty tough task: avoiding gambling money that they can’t afford to lose. The idea of daily set maximum limits, in theory, does make sense, however, as always it would be far too easy to figure out how to get around it, often through creating new accounts under different emails. Virtual sports betting has had its time to shine over the last few months, but has taken a firm grip of many within the gambling community and now has no intentions of letting go. 


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James Byrne



Nice article mate