Comment Central explores the thunderous growth in iGaming, the industry’s future and prospective flashpoints over the coming decade.

The iGaming industry is booming these days and has seen significant growth year on year since its emergence almost two decades ago. The estimated worth of the industry in 2018 is close to $52 billion, and that figure is projected to rise to roughly $62 billion by 2020. People have always enjoyed gaming in one variety or other, but since the emergence of the internet, and the variety it offers, the options expanded almost as much as the market.

The rapid technological advances in the way we play games and consume media create an ever-changing and multidimensional sector, one that legislators must necessarily seek to play catch-up. Increasingly, iGaming is drawing punters away from traditional brick-and-mortar casinos and over to their online counterparts. Mobile gaming has been and will be the strongest area of growth for the sector, and the consensus is that this will continue for years to come. The level of engagement and the growth in the mobile market is hardly surprising given the sheer numbers of smartphone users in the world today. So, where is this market going?

Virtual Reality Gaming

VR will be the next big thing in iGaming.

By most estimates, the next big thing will be virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). We’ve already seen popular versions of VR technology in products like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and some versions of AR in Google Glass and Pokémon GO. Both technologies are still developing, although this is not to say that they aren’t usable and enjoyable as they stand right now. And though most estimates depict mass adoption of these technologies within the next few years, the challenge for the industry right now is in using these technologies to add new dimensions to traditional casino experiences rather than copying and pasting the traditional in-person casino experience onto another format. To attract and maintain the numbers, they have to offer something new (other than the novelty factor) over brick-and-mortar casinos.

The games developed for VR right now already offer an impressively immersive experience, an example being the soon-to-be-released  PokerStars VR, which, once you put on the headset, places you at a virtual table where you can play against other people in real time. Games such as these could potentially open iGaming to an altogether new market. The critical and exciting aspect of these games to players and developers alike is the ability to immerse yourself in a 360-degree virtual world with other people where you can acknowledge and interact with people playing the same game from halfway across the world. That is the biggest draw to consumers, and what will keep the gaming experiences enjoyable and dynamic. The understanding in gaming communities is that playing against a computer isn’t half as exciting or challenging as playing against other people.

Changes to the industry

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond with his U.S. counterpart, former Secretary of State John Kerry at the Chatham House, London 2016.

As the industry grows and changes, governments around the world must create new laws and alter existing ones to keep up. In the U.K., iGaming operators must brace for a revenue hit as the Chancellor Philip Hammond’s new budget, announced on Monday (October 29th), includes a prospective increase on remote gaming duty (tax) from its current rate of 15 percent to between 20–25 percent. Such is the third duty of its kind introduced to iGaming in the U.K. within the last four years, after the Point-of-Consumption in 2014 and then followed by the Industry Free-Play tax in 2016. The Financial Times estimates that the duty will see over £1 billion added to the treasury over the next five years.

As an industry, iGaming is going nowhere soon with profit margins and financial forecasts both showing strong upward trends. The new technology popularized right now will altogether enable new experiences and may offer enough to draw customers from land-based casinos toward their online counterparts. And even then, who’s to say what technology will be available within the next five to ten years and how that may change the scene. It’s a dynamic time for the industry, and iGaming operators and governments alike will have their work cut out for them to keep up.

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