A smoking ban in the UK in all enclosed public places will take effect from the beginning of 2007, with a complete ban in licensed areas by the end of 2008. The White Paper on Public Health plans (released in February 2006 and can bee seen here http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldbills/076/06076.1-6.html) suggests that most enclosed public areas, including offices and factories, will become smoke free. Only private clubs, where MPs voted to allow smoking, and pubs which do not serve prepared food would be exempt. This means that up to 90% of bars and restaurants will be smoke free within a few years.
So how will this White Paper affect the numbers attending bingo halls in the UK long-term, where a substantial percentage of players smoke. Some figures suggest that almost two out of the three million people who regularly play bingo are smokers (according to the Bingo Association). Of those two million, a large majority are women, who will be forced to play their favourite social game without a smoke.
Well, the vote on the smoking ban was conducted in the House of Parliament by MPs who, while exempting the 20,000 or so private members clubs, have not exempted the many hundreds of UK bingo halls.
The Smoking, Health and Social Care Bill came into effect in Scotland in March 2006 and has already starting to have serious effect on the bingo and casino industries, with 5 major clubs closing down since its implementation. Estimates show that up to 70% of bingo players in Scotland smoke, and bosses are suggesting that most players are turning up later and leaving earlier in order to light up a cigarette, reducing the session times and the average expenditure. While pub owners claim the ban has had little effect, both Mecca Bingo and Carlton say that the ban has hit the industry hard. Early indications show that the ban has led to a definite fall in customers. However numbers attending bingo halls has been steadily declining in the UK since 2000 with only 2.8% of adults attending in 2004.
It has been estimated that up to one third of the UK’s bingo halls will close due to the ban. This would mean a massive loss to the industry and the £2 billion in revenues taken by giants such as Gala and Mecca each year. This will also have a knock-on effect as bingo suppliers and the like, will find their demand for their business reducing.
But all is not lost for these companies. Both Gala and Mecca have online bingo products launched for a while now, and with Gala recently deciding to go alone with their independent software, it seems they are gearing up for a change in direction and are placing more emphasis on revenues from online bingo in the future. So does this mean Gala are preparing for the drop in numbers to their bingo halls, and will players switch to online bingo more increasingly as the ban takes effect. There are certainly enough online bingo game sites to provide for the three million or so land-based players who may make the switch. But will these players find the same social element and enjoyment online as they do in land-based bingo halls.
Well, one thing is for sure, they may have more money to spend at online bingo. According to the NHS’s smoking advice, a 20 per day smoker will spend approximately £30,000 over the next 20 years. It forecasts that the smoking ban will lead to 700,000 people quitting cigarettes altogether. A leading NHS doctor suggests also that when people stop smoking, they want to reward themselves in other ways, with perhaps a holiday or a new car, and this could also mean more disposable income to spend on light entertainment such as online bingo. It may be that a person might think that the £5 per day saving on smoking might be worth spending on online bingo games, which provides it own element of reward.
Online bingo does provide a high social element too. The chat rooms that accompany such games, provide users with the ability to meet and talk to friends, allows users to participate in fun chat room games and has the added bonus of the home being just about the only place where smoking cannot be banned.
Of the 30% in revenues that are spent in slot machines at bingo halls, there is also provision at online bingo for players to continue playing slots, as many of the online sites have slot machines games and other light games to enjoy while in between bingo games.
So, all is not lost for the land-based bingo player. In fact, the UK market is almost over-run with bingo sites waiting for players to make the switch. And with bingo halls banning smoking, you can suggest that the cross-over to online bingo won’t be far behind.