Published: 12 February, 2021

Bingo: Back in the spotlight

Gadi Shoshani of XLMedia-owned affiliate WhichBingo talks Tim Poole through how the UKbingo market is progressing following a year of lockdowns and online activity.

How exactly did 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic affect online bingo?
During the past 18 months, I can share that the industry itself has shrunk and many brands have closed. In bingo, we always see fluctuations; the smaller brands either get bought or die out. But these last 18 months were super interesting because of the sheer amount of brands that have closed down activity. Considering WhichBingo is working with pretty much all bingo brands in the UK, we have our finger on the pulse.

About 30% of all brands have closed during the past year and a half. But it’s not necessarily related to COVID. When we start looking at COVID and the impact it had, we can say there was a positive impact in terms of an increase in general users since April. There was a high increase in certain demographics, almost a 100% increase in the female demographic and even more than a 70% rise in the male demographic to the website. In terms of age ranges, there was a spike as users above 65 doubled and, interestingly enough, young adults also soared 110%.

Why is that happening? The obvious part is the closure of bingo halls, which pushed the older demographic to WhichBingo. On the other hand, social bingo halls do exist and they attract younger crowds, while back in April we also had a lack of sports events. We saw people who would usually place a bet on sports somehow migrate a little bit into online bingo. So the impact of COVID has seen the elderly turn to online bingo and, on the younger side, either people have moved online from the social bingo halls, or due to the lack of sports events.

Now there’s less competition, have those who have remained gained greater market share?
Yeah, that’s pretty accurate. Brands do consult with us about how we see things and what our users are looking for. Sometimes they’ll also tell us what they’re working on and we’ll give our feedback. In terms of specifics, brands are working on making the bingo game more social and interactive. That’s something many brands are mindful of and we can also tell you there’s aninteresting game about to be launched, a new bingo game. It’s probably going to be launched in a couple of months (at the time of speaking in early December) and it’s really trying to make the bingo experience more interactive. Anything that has to do with AI and machine learning, there’s an emphasis on personalisation.

It’s not a new concept but, in a way, the bingo industry has kind of lagged in terms of innovation. It didn’t really get any focus and attention in the past couple of years. The brands have been focusing on casino but it seems now someone has discovered, if you will, that online bingo is right there and hasn’t seen much innovation. So brands are starting to focus their attention on online bingo and evolve it in a similar way to casino.

Are personalisation and the social side of the game the most important aspects now for bingo sites, when trying to stand out and compete with each other?
It’s always going to be one of those areas, either they’re putting an emphasis on the personalisation, which is a silent aspect that brands would not come out and announce, or makeovers and rebrands are important. Some brands have been given makeovers as a result of M&A and that’s another way of brands staying fresh – users like a fresh approach. Everything that’s related to the social aspect comes from the game creators, or via chat rooms or live streaming. Those are probably all the topics getting prioritisation in terms of emphasis on innovation. All the bigger brands are focused on those.

What percentage of the overall online gaming market would you estimate belongs to bingo? Do you see this figure growing?
I’m Europe VP marketing at XLMedia and we do have activity in not just bingo, although WhichBingo is the biggest source of bingo traffic in the UK. The website is also ranking very well on slots-related key words, so we are an expert in slots. Although in terms of evaluating the exact market share, I wouldn’t guesstimate, being a numbers guy, because even if we’re ranking number one it doesn’t mean we are getting 100% market share. What I can share with you is that right now we’re working on market research, looking at those exact things, trying to understand the numbers behind sports betting, bingo and casino, as well as the players that bet on more than one of those games.
“This COVID thing is apparently not a fling or a 12-month thing. So I think we will see that attractiveness of online bingo is definitely here for a significant period of time”

Long term, what do you think the future holds for bingo? Is it more online or will there always be a place for bingo halls?
Great question, it’s something I’ve looked into recently. On average, we know 20% of online bingo players remain in the online bingo world. So it would be fair to assume that out of these newcomers we would still have 20% that would stay. It’s an average based on large numbers, so I wouldn’t expect that number to change much. The second thing is, like you just mentioned, bingo halls are starting to come back and close again. This COVID thing is apparently not a fling or a 12-month thing. So I think we will see that attractiveness of online bingo is definitely here for a significant period of time.

I think what will happen is, even today if I told you all bingo halls are now open, assuming you’re a bingo player you would probably not feel 100% secure. Even once this kind of thing clears out, I would still expect online bingo to get an extra oomph out of the pandemic. In two years, looking a bit farther in, I would still say that 20% is still here to stay. Like I said, even in the 65-plus population, people have discovered online bingo and they probably won’t leave it soon, even once bingo halls have completely reopened.

It’s like a revolving door, people come and go all the time but, out of 100 players, there will always be that 20 that stay and feel more connected. Looking at a year and a half from today, especially in the social bingo halls, I think it will still be a fun experience. But people who have discovered online bingo and like it have found their community. Bingo is starting to get a bit of the spotlight again and I think this next year will also be very interesting on the innovation front.