UK brand slowdown: where is the growth?

By Martyn Hannah

Martyn Hannah, MD of online casino comparison site Comparasino, says that despite a slowdown in new brands hitting the UK market, player demand remains strong. So what are these players looking for?

There was once a time when you’d see new online casinos hitting the UK market pretty much every month. But then, about 24 months ago, there was a sudden slowdown. This was followed by a slew of brands withdrawing citing issues over squeezed margins and long-term viability.

Worryingly, this was before the government white paper (and the consultations that keep rumbling on), the ongoing discussions around affordability checks and the recent announcement that slot stake limits will be limited to between £2 and £5 from September.

Include InTouch Games handing in its licence, pulling another network of brands from the market, and it’s been a pretty torrid few years.

Shock of the new

You only need to look at the number of brands on our new online casinos page to see the scale of the problem – we now consider a brand to be “new” if it has launched in the past couple of years. If we didn’t, we’d be left with just a couple of brands to push to players.

This is not ideal. We know that when players are looking for new casinos, they mean new. But we have refrained from taking the same approach as other comparison sites that list brands regardless of when they launched because they could be new to the player.

There are many reasons why operators have been reluctant to launch new brands in the UK market and the delayed white paper absolutely has had a lot to do with this. And while its contents were better than expected, the ongoing consultations are still creating enough uncertainty to deter operators from making a move.

When it rains

The situation has not been helped by the stake limit coming into force in September. While the impact will likely be limited – the vast majority of players are not wagering £5 per spin – I think operators simply want the dust to fully settle before assessing whether the UK can be a viable market for them.

This has been compounded by increasing pressure on operators to apply the lens of responsible gambling across all areas of the business. We all support the desire to protect vulnerable players, but this is now impacting an online casino brand’s ability to acquire and retain players.

Take welcome bonuses, for example. The vast majority of casinos now offer the same 100% up to £100 plus a handful of free spins. This is because they can’t be seen to encourage players to wager beyond their means by matching deposits to higher values or offering hundreds of free spins.

I understand the logic behind this, but this risks pushing players to unlicensed sites – something we’ve seen at scale in the French market – where the bonuses up for grabs are far more generous. It also doesn’t address the real issue with welcome offers, and that’s the wagering requirements that players must complete to get their winnings.

For me, this is where the real danger of encouraging problem play comes in as players continue to deposit to complete the wagering requirement to turn their bonus cash into real money.

PlayOJO pioneered the no-wagering bonus when it launched back in 2017 and it’s good to see other brands such as Heart Bingo doing away with playthrough requirements, too. Those that do give themselves a strong USP and can build strong trust with players.

This is important because despite there being a slowdown in the number of new brands launching in the UK in recent years, the demand for online casino play is still high which gives operators plenty of opportunity to engage players not already signed up to their brands.

Bonuses are certainly a good way to catch a player’s eye, but once the deposit match has been spent and the free spins used, the casino must continue to deliver a high-calibre experience if it is to keep that player engaged for the long-term.

Untapped demand

So what exactly are players looking for? The data from our recommendation engine indicates that payments are a key consideration for players. Not only in terms of the methods in the cashier – digital and mobile wallets are now a must – but also the speed of withdrawals.

Fast withdrawals and instant payouts are becoming non-negotiable – from the player’s perspective, the casino takes their money without delay so there’s no reason why payouts shouldn’t be just as fast. Open banking and modern payment providers such as TrueLayer and Vyne allow casinos to facilitate this.

Players are also looking for games beyond slots with demand for non-traditional content like crash, mines, instant win and plinko becoming increasingly popular. Operators that want to engage the widest audience must diversify their portfolios beyond slots, table and live dealer.

The UK market might be at a bit of a crossroads right now, but the sheer volume of searches for online casinos and bonuses remains high. The challenge for operators is to meet player demands while being compliant and achieving sustainable profit margins.

This is easier said than done, but for those who can crack the code, there are plenty of opportunities to explore. And of course, sites such as Comparasino are here to help brands drive awareness among UK players.

Photo by Sid Ali via Pexels

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