Global Gambling Statistics
The world has always had a healthy appetite for gambling throughout history, although the path between desire and fulfillment has often not been one without obstacles. Even though gambling involves our exercising our free will by spending money that is rightfully ours, and we’re normally allowed to do this as much as we choose, societies have taken an overly paternal attitude towards gambling, where they tell us that we aren’t allowed to gamble, or can only partake in certain types of gambling, ones that they approve of.
Whether the sanctions are by way of law or by religious edict, the goal is the same, to look to prevent people from spending their own money the way they please. The religious commands are in of themselves pretty benign, as one may choose to obey or not based upon their own convictions, and whether one’s beliefs are incompatible with a particular religion, one can simply ignore these commands or even choose a different religion as they please.
This is not to say that religion hasn’t had a hand in the actual prohibition of gambling, as far as using the force of law to enforce these decrees, as religious doctrine has and still does influence codes of law. This is definitely still in force in Muslim countries, where their religion does influence the law very significantly, but the world has come a long way recently in doing a better job of setting aside religious beliefs about gambling, that it is a vice, and this has served to really open up the access to gambling, with governments not just not opposing it but freely condoning it and reaping financial rewards from doing so.
That’s just one part of the new gambling revolution, with the second part being the greater ease of access to gambling. In the United States, for instance, the only land based-gambling in the country for a long time was limited to the State of Nevada, with Atlantic City coming later, but other than that, you had to gamble at an underground establishment if you wanted to gamble in the U.S., gambling that is not only unregulated but risks arrest and prosecution.
Nowadays, land-based casinos are very common throughout the U.S., with both states changing their mind and sanctioning them as well as the great expansion of Indian run casinos throughout the country. The availability of online gambling has also greatly increased our access to gambling, and unlike land-based gambling, there really isn’t any good way for a government to stop this, and online gambling even goes on in the most restrictive countries such as Saudi Arabia.
The global appetite for gambling remains underserved to a degree, where the supply has not risen to meet the demand, and any time someone wishes to gamble but does not have the access to it or are unaware of its availability, we end up with a loss of utility or happiness on the part of prospective gamblers and an economic loss where money wanted to change hands but failed to do so.
While a system that is less efficient than ideal can provide economic benefits, for instance with people taking trips to Vegas or Macau, this is only a benefit overall if the participants choose this means to gamble, and not just because more efficient options aren’t available. Many love to travel to Vegas for instance, but if they are just going there to gamble and would prefer to travel to a closer and less expensive locale, or gamble at home online, the market for this is not well served, and the solution is to always look to increase the supply of gambling to meet the particular demand for it.
Gambling Continues to Expand Around the World
As we increase this access to gambling to better meet current demand, the gambling market worldwide continues to expand, both the supply of it and the demand for it.
We’re seeing a worldwide trend toward more and easier access to gambling overall, which the numbers bear out. We’ve become more permissive toward gambling overall, and attitudes toward it worldwide have changed as well. There’s nothing like making something legal and more available to stimulate repressed demand, and risking prosecution will always serve to mute this demand due to the competing interest of not wanting to run afoul of the law.
While the law always needs to be understood practically, where we need to look at both the law and its degree of enforcement, there will always be some who are not aware that there may not be any risk of prosecution, like with online gambling, or may simply not partake by way of principle. The push to legalize gambling more and more has therefore had a significant effect on participation rates, especially when the law not only supports it but provides protection to gamblers through regulating it.
It’s not just online gambling that is delivering these results, and land-based gambling is growing impressively as well. Overall gambling expenditures worldwide grew by almost 25% in the years between 2011-2016, from a little over $300 billion to almost $400 billion, a number that we have since surpassed. In 4 years, this number is expected to pass $600 billion, which is about $100 per year for every person on Earth. This gives us an idea of the impressive scope of gambling that we are starting to see now.
While online gambling is growing as well, and rose from $30 billion in 2011 to $45 billion in 2016, while that is a higher growth rate, this only added about $15 billion of the almost $100 billion in additional gambling expenditures over this period. Online gambling has a lot more room to grow, but is still being dwarfed by land-based gambling.
The U.S. Leads the Way in Gambling Expenditures
The United States is far and away the leader in gambling expenditures, and we need to look at expenditures and not just wagers to measure this, to calculate the cost of this entertainment as well as the revenue earned from it. This is often expressed as amounts lost, but that term ignores the benefits involved in losing this money, the state of being entertained to the point where this cost becomes not a loss but the price of this entertainment.
In 2016, the U.S. spent almost $120 billion on gambling, almost twice as much as second place China and as much as the third to eighth place countries combined. Gambling has opened up even more since 2016 and we’re nowhere near saturating this market yet, especially as far as tapping very much into the potential of online gambling, which states remain for the most part opposed to.
Unlike in most other countries, the decision to legalize and regulate gambling is done at the state level, where we’re left with a patchwork that does not have many patches on it yet. As this changes more and more, we’ll see this more and more patched up and this will drive the growth of gambling in the United States significantly forward.
There’s more to looking to regulate gambling than looking to maximize wagering, and the U.S. is the perfect example of how other things weigh in on these decisions. The gambling industry in the U.S. takes in $248 billion a year, over twice what people spend on the gambling itself. Perhaps even more notable is the 1.8 million jobs that the gambling industry employs in the U.S.
Cannibalizing these land-based gambling establishments with their several other ways of making money can reduce the overall gambling economy if we’re not careful, and the goal is to add more revenue on the online side than you subtract overall from the land-based side.
A Look at the Other Top Gambling Countries in the World
China, in spite of its massive population, would not be anywhere near second place in the world if not for Macau. In terms of revenue from gambling, Macau all by itself is right up there with some very big countries. China does have a lottery, but most of the gambling revenue is taken in by Macau. Macau is to China what Las Vegas used to be to the U.S., back when there wasn’t anywhere else to gamble in the country legally outside of the lottery, and Macau has this corner of the world all to itself, serving the massive Chinese market.
China has come a long way over the past few decades as far as their changing view of capitalism goes, and China might have a communist government but they have a capitalist economy now, but embracing gambling has been something that they are still reluctant to do. Since they do not permit it on the mainland, they aren’t that fussy about Macau continuing to offer it at the scale they do, but so far they have tolerated it.
Should China make the move to run the mainland like Macau, where gambling both at land-based establishments and online become fully opened up, the gambling industry in China would explode. Macau took in $38 billion in profit from gambling in 2018, and this is the reason they are allowed to continue on, as this represents half of the city’s revenue and Macau simply would not survive without gambling.
The U.K. has indeed opened up gambling fully, and they serve as the model of the ideal, both in terms of access to gambling and gambling regulation. The Brits have been open to gambling for hundreds of years, and are now at the pinnacle of being as open as you could possibly be.
The U.K. combines a fully developed online gambling scene, overseen by the same U.K. Gaming Commission as their land-based gambling establishments are, and a whole lot of places that you can physically visit to gamble. With over 170,000 gambling machines and over 8,000 betting shops, you can gamble all you like in the U.K., whether you prefer to visit establishments or gamble online, and whatever you want to bet on, they have it.
The U.K. is a gambler’s paradise, at least as far as the gambling part goes anyway, although the only $17 billion that the gambling industry takes in a year, beaten so badly by a single city in China, shows that there is more to gambling revenue than gambling. There is still potential to grow here, but it is in the other opportunities to provide entertainment to gamblers besides gambling.
No one has saturated land-based gambling more successfully than in Australia, and the reason why Australia does not offer online casino play is that they make so much money from their “pokies,” which Aussies call gambling machines.
16% of adults in Australia play pokies, with almost half of them playing at least once a week. It’s not the percentage of people playing that tells the story though, it’s how much they spend. Australia’s per capita spending on gambling is the highest in the world.
Gambling is big business in Australia, to the tune of $116 billion a year, placing them second only to the United States in this category. With sports betting growing more each year, this number is trending up.
In spite of its modest population of 37 million, Canada’s openness to gambling has it among the countries in the world with the highest gambling revenue, up to $13.7 billion a year now. Canada has not traditionally been very liberal toward gambling, but they are catching up lately, as casinos have sprung up all across the country to go along with their big lottery.
Japan has relied on the lottery for its gambling revenue, and it wasn’t until very recently that casinos have been allowed. The Japanese spend $31 billion a year on gambling, and this market does not need to be grown, it just needs to be served better, where Japanese no longer have to travel outside the country.
Looking at Popular Forms of Gambling
Casino games are the king of the gambling world, whether that be at land-based casinos or virtual online ones. Over a third of all gambling goes to the casino side, a number that has been growing lately.
About half of U.S. casino players play slots, and slots are even more popular elsewhere, especially in Australia. Slots dominate both land-based and online casinos, where the other half is split among the other popular casino games, such as blackjack, roulette, craps, and other table games.
Sports betting is another huge component of overall worldwide gambling, and this is a form of gambling that is really growing lately, as more and more players come to realize how much more enjoyable sporting events can be with money on the line.
Regulated sports betting accounts for $77 billion a year in revenue, and this does not account for the black market, which is said to be particularly huge in China.
In terms of the sheer amount of players, nothing comes close to lotteries, and in some places, the lottery is the only game in town. Land-based lotteries are well saturated and aren’t likely to grow much more, but the lottery is going online now and it’s share of online gambling continues to grow.
Bingo has really grown online and now boasts 100 million players worldwide. Bingo is plenty popular at land based events as well, and this popularity has translated very well to the online world where there is a bingo game any time of night or day.
Poker’s rise to fame was fueled by the emergence of online play, and poker was on a trajectory up until the number of U.S. participants dropped off so much after the UIGEA came into effect. The U.S. represented a full half of the world market, and while poker has climbed part of the way up the cliff it fell from, there remains much potential for it to come back and maybe even one day surpass those old heights.
Looking to Predict the Road Ahead for Gambling
There is no question that land-based gambling and online gambling offer different experiences, even though the gambling itself may be identical. Even though there is an overlap here, we can look at each type separately, and they are fully compatible with going up together.
The first thing to observe is that the fears that allowing online gambling will destroy the land-based gambling industry have been unfounded. Online gambling simulates the experience of gambling itself, putting you right in the seat at a gambling machine right at home or even at a live table game with the new remote technology out there now, where you bet on a real roulette wheel or play blackjack with a real deck of cards.
Virtual gambling can only simulate the gambling itself though, and that is part of a land-based gambling experience, but you can no more simulate the entire experience than you can showing people pictures of a vacation destination and then thinking that this is somehow as good as actually going there and taking everything the vacation has to offer in person, including the journey, the meals, the accommodations, the sights, the smells, the social interaction with staff and other vacationers, and so on.
Online gambling is far from an empty experience though, as they do serve up the main course of the gambling destination meal, the gambling itself, the excitement of staking money to pursue gambling wins. Online gambling satisfies this desire far more efficiently, not only saving time and money but offering people the ability to gamble in situations where it would be impractical or impossible to do in person, but is now available online on demand.
We have come a very long way overall as far as how attitudes have changed toward gambling, among the public and especially with governments, who are more eager now to both take care of the demand for gambling among the people they govern without their having to resort to black market operations, as well as benefit financially from the arrangement by way of additional taxes.
While there is still room for considerable expansion of land-based gambling, less so in some countries like Australia and the U.K, but certainly in countries like the United States and Japan, the potential for the growth of online gambling is considerably greater, due to the much lower cost and much greater ease of implementation that online gambling enjoys.
While land-based gambling continues to grow, its growth has slowed down now, as we may expect given its much greater costs and its need for sufficient demand to justify it. You can’t put a casino on every street corner, no more than you can put a department store on every corner either, because the demand isn’t there for it.
Online shops like Amazon can serve everyone with an internet connection though and don’t have to worry about the profitability of a given physical location because there aren’t any. As Amazon’s business continues to grow, so will online gambling, as attitudes towards them by the public evolve to embrace this form of interaction more.
It is changing attitudes, by both the public and with authorities, that provide the greatest opportunity for growth in the gambling industry. Japan has wondered why they let so many of their people take their gambling money to other locales and have decided to both serve their people themselves and make a profit from it as well. The United States still has a long way to go to satisfy the gambling demand of their people, and while China may be years away from this, just going back a couple of decades, who would have thought China would ever have the second largest capitalist economy in the world.
Expanding the worldwide gambling market further just involves us satisfying the demand that already exists for this more efficiently. Looking at the numbers, we’re doing a better and better job at this with each passing year, but the numbers also show us that there is still a long way to go, one step at a time.