Lots of people gamble, and lots of people lose. More than 80% of people in the U.S. gamble at least once in their lives, and The Economist recently published a chart of data H2 Gambling Capital estimating that Americans lost a whopping $142.6 billion in 2014. Chinese lost $95.4 billion, while the British lost $23.6 billion. There were billions more in losses elsewhere around the globe.

That's an awful lot of money. Why not be on the winning side of the bet -- the house's side? Instead of gambling, why don't you invest in the gambling industry?

Forget about the struggles of daily fantasy sports in the U.S., the global gambling market is gaining momentum.

"The thing which is exciting about this sector is we're getting a lot of new gamblers coming to the sector for the first time. The sector is growing very fast. We are getting media increases with different mobile platforms coming on stream and of course the sector is very profitable. It's generating strong cash flow. A lot these businesses have net cash balances already. So, they're paying a lot of this cash out in dividends for the first time," said Gervais Williams, fund manager from MAM Funds

That is especially true for the gambling industry in the U.K. It has one of the biggest industry market caps of all national gambling industries worldwide. Although growth in other industries seems to slow down, the British gambling sector is still experiencing massive growth rates.

Between 2010 and 2014, revenue in the UK gambling industry climbed from £5.6 billion to £7.1 billion, according to the UK's Gambling Commission. Most of this growth happened online and on mobile devices.

The gambling market includes not only physical and online casinos, but also sports betting on activities such as horse racing, football, rugby and others. According to the analysts of Technavio, the UK gambling market will continue to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.28% from 2014 to 2019.

The most important industry trend right now is the shift to online gambling. While in 2008 about 9.7% of the adult population in the UK used online gambling platforms, this percentage increased to 15.9% in 2014.

Growth is not only taking place in the UK. According to H2 Gambling Capital, the global online casino and bingo market will grow at a CAGR of 10% from 2014 to 2018.

There are several ways to get a piece of the take. One is to invest in the global gambling industry, for example with the Market Vectors Gaming ETF (BJK - Get Report) . It tracks the Market Vectors Global Gaming Index, which includes companies that generate more than 50% of their revenue from casinos.

BJK Chart BJK data by YCharts

The downside of the Market Vectors Gaming ETF is that with an average daily trading volume of 19,132, it's not very liquid. However, if you have some patience, you can benefit from the roughly 5% annual dividend yield.

The Market Vectors Gaming ETF has the potential to be a highly profitable investment, but it bears some risks. Another way is to invest directly in certain stocks. Big and diversified companies such as William Hill or Amaya (AYA) offer interesting opportunities.

AYA Chart AYA data by YCharts

While William Hill didn't have an impressive performance over the last few months, the stock still offers an attractive trailing annual dividend yield of near 4%. Amaya is now expending its business into the U.S. An analyst of Macquarie said, that he sees the company's earnings doubling over the next few years.

Although the market offers a wide range of risk, the overall perception that investing in the industry is too risky is wrong.

"These aren't risky stocks. They are growing and have significant cash flows, so investors feel very comfortable," Dan Daviau, CEO of North American Capital Markets at Canaccord Genuity Group, told the Financial Post

A risk in the industry is that companies are subject to heavy governmental regulations. Investors should pay attention to national tax rules, gambling regulations, changes in fees, bans of certain practices and investment regulations. These things change over time and can create trouble for the industry and investors.

These risks affect especially smaller companies, as they struggle more with higher compliance costs. For this reason, private equity firms invest and try to build up huge gambling conglomerates which dominate the market.

Nick Batram from financial firm Peel Hunt told the BBC that there are two major reasons for more mergers and acquisitions: "On the one hand they are seeing the costs of tax, compliance and technology go up, and want to offset this. But they are also looking for new ways to grow as the market becomes more competitive."

This consolidation is also driven by private equity firms. Companies like CVC Capital Partners or GVC Holdings are buying businesses with potential and merge them with something else. In the long run, that could lead to some huge gambling conglomerates which push most of their smaller competitors out of the market.

Looking at current trends, the industry has a lot to offer. While other sectors experience a downturn, gambling companies are seeing impressive growth rates and investors may want to have their slice of the cake as well. As always, it's all about finding the right company with the right strategy.

 

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.