The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said on the 14 June 2021 “At a certain stage, we are going to have to learn to live with the virus and manage it as best we can“. The purpose of this article is to understand why he said this and to consider how living with the virus will affect the gambling industry.

Until now a great deal of faith and hope has been placed on the vaccination programme which so far as Israel, Gibraltar, Malta, and the UK are concerned, has gone very well. The problem is that amongst some of the people in Europe there is a developing story of vaccine hesitancy. Wanting to get back to normal, and for businesses to engage with their customers again, it is going to take longer than perhaps we had hoped for.

So far as the gambling industry is concerned, i-gaming is going to maintain its recent growth but land-based properties for the time being are going to take more time.

The BBC Horizon programme What We Know Now sums it up perfectly with this equation.

H = (1-1/Ro)/E

H is the holy grail of herd immunity, the number of people vaccinated to stop the disease from spreading.

Ro Is how easily the virus spreads assuming no intervention measures. It is believed to be three, the number of people one person infects on average.

E is the efficacy of the vaccines. Of the main ones in use Pfizer and Oxford AstraZeneca the efficacy against the Kent variant is believed to be 79%.

This gives a figure of 84% who need the vaccine to achieve herd immunity. This equates to around 56 million people in the UK. The current rate of vaccinations in the UK is going well, we should reach herd immunity by November 2021.

However, the new Indian ‘Delta’ variant is supposed to be more contagious so that will affect the Ro number, which could be as high as 6. Then we have efficacy, it is believed that the vaccines are still effective, but less so than before. This affects the number of people that need to be vaccinated.

A survey on vaccine hesitancy has been undertaken by IPSOS Mori.

Of the 15 countries surveyed, the UK shows the highest level of vaccination intent: Nine in ten British adults (89%) who say they have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 agree they would get a vaccine if it were available.

Among the other countries, intent to take a COVID-19 vaccine is:

• Very high in Brazil (88%), China (85%), Mexico (85%), Italy (80%), Spain (80%), Canada (79%), and South Korea (78%).
• Fairly high in Australia (73%), the United States (71%), and Germany (68%).
• Middling in Japan (64%), South Africa (61%), and France (57%); and,
• Low in Russia (42%).

At the moment people feel confident once vaccinated to lead a normal life, hence the media protest when the UK Government did not open fully this month. What we do not know is whether that confidence will wane if the virus continues to mutate, as it is doing now making the vaccines less effective.

For the gambling industry, I remain cautious about the land-based sector. While a large proportion of vaccinated customers feel confident, and will be content to visit casinos, a significant percentage will wait and see. Premises are expensive to service. If 20 percent of customers remain cautious to the point where they stay at home, very few of these businesses in their present form will be profitable. The small betting shop is clearly going to struggle.

Internet gambling has done well this last twelve months. I believe the operators will retain their new customers and add more. If living with the virus means being cautious, then this is the perfect recipe for internet gambling to continue to grow.

Written by Warwick Bartlett