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UK Gambling Law – What You Need to Know

Online gaming has become a major part of the British economy, alongside banking, retail, and services, with gambling in its diverse forms becoming a favourite pastime for most of the Brits. The UK is home to some of the oldest and largest bookmakers and the industry is very well regulated by the government to protect players. There are many advantages for UK punters and gamblers. To start off, gambling in the UK is legal for anyone over 18 and the government enforces some of the most rigorous regulations on betting operators to ensure a safe and fair environment. Plus, there’s no tax on gambling wins. Considering how many countries have vague standing on gambling, we have it pretty good, eh?
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History of UK Gambling Laws

Gambling is deeply rooted in UK culture – lotteries, bingo, and sports betting have enjoyed a steady popularity throughout the 20th century, and in the era of the internet, online gambling counts for 35% of all betting activity, allowing players to use both UK and foreign services. Nowadays, only individuals and operators licensed by the UK Gambling Commission can offer gambling services and advertise to UK residents. Before the commission was set up, gambling was regulated by several outdated pieces of legislature, with all past and present forms of legislation codifying online gambling as legal for UK residents.

Initial UK Gambling Laws

Fun Fact #1 The first real national lottery in England was authorised by Parliament in 1694.

The Betting and Gambling Act of 1960 allowed for the first time commercial bingo halls to operate in the UK. Betting shops were legalised on 1 May 1961 and in the first six months, up to 10,000 were opened. The new vetting procedures, established by the 1960 Betting and Gaming Act, required betting shops to set up premises, pay staff and “go straight.” Most of the street bookies didn’t manage to meet these requirements and some of the most famous bookmakers were reluctant to open betting houses because of the many restrictions and required initial capital. It wasn’t until the 1980s that betting houses were allowed to improve and started offering a more comfortable and welcoming environment with seats, TV sets for racecourses, and refreshments.

The Gaming Act of 1968 passed established rules for the construction of commercial casinos with table games. With the advent of the internet, gaming legislation was updated with the Betting and Gaming Duties Act of 1981 that outlined restrictions on conducting and advertising offshore gambling services in the UK. With more people choosing to play online, and the emergence of more gambling sites to meet the demand, they were mostly deemed legal in the UK despite the lack of specific gambling law to codify the legality of online gambling until 2005.

Gambling Act of 2005

Previous gambling rules and regulations gave way to the Gambling Act of 2005 which took in its stride the regulation and licensure of all forms of gambling, including all known online formats. In accordance with the European Union’s pro-gambling stance, the Act is the UK’s legislative authorities concentrated effort to regulate gambling so that it doesn’t become source of crime and disorder, to prevent underage gambling, and to ensure an open and safe gambling environment.

Fun Fact #2 The first betting shops had “dead windows” so people wouldn’t be enticed by looking in.

Under the Gambling Act of 2005, all individuals and operators who wish to offer gambling services or advertise to British customers, need to hold a licence from the UK Gambling Commission. Under the same act, it is entirely legal to participate in online gambling as a UK resident, which means that if you’re residing in the UK, you can participate at online casinos, poker rooms, bingo sites, sportsbooks and lottery sites, as well as establish a gambling service for charitable or profitable purposes.

The most recent update to the UK gambling legislation, the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 postulates that all remote gambling operators providing services to customers in the UK need to obtain a licence from the UK Gambling Commission. Prior to 2014, operators whose gambling facilities had been available to British residents but their equipment had not been located in the UK, didn’t need to acquire a UKGC licence. Or in other words, this Act regulates remote gambling operations based on the point of consumption, instead of at the point of supply.

The UK Gambling Commission

The UK Gambling Commission was established under the Gambling Act of 2015 as an independent non-departmental public body which is funded by the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It is the official UK commission responsible for regulating all commercial gambling. It oversees all sectors of gambling including arcades, betting, bingo, casino, lotteries, gaming machines, gambling software and all forms of remote gambling services. The only form of betting which is not in its scope of responsibilities is speed betting which is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

The UK Gambling Commission Regulates Gambling

Whitelisted Gambling Jurisdictions

All operators who offer gambling services in brick-and-mortar casinos or online need a licence from the UK Gambling Commission in order for their operation to be legal. They’re obligated to display clearly the details of their licence on the premises or on the website – if you’re wondering whether an online casino is a safe and trusted one, look for the commission’s logo. When you click on it, it will take you to the website of the UKGC where you will see the status and all details of the licence.

However, sometimes, you might also come across the logos of other gambling commissions and licensing authorities. This is because some gambling jurisdictions have been approved by the UK government as meeting all standards and are featured on the UK Gambling Commission’s whitelist. Operators licensed by whitelisted jurisdictions are allowed to offer gambling services and advertise on the UK market, which means a casino displaying such a licence is a safe place for you to gamble online. The jurisdictions on the UKGC’s whitelist are:

  • Countries within the European Economic Area (EEA)
  • Alderney – The Alderney Gambling Control Commission
  • Antigua and Barbuda – The Directorate of Offshore Gaming
  • Gibraltar – The Gibraltar Gambling Commissioner
  • Isle of Man – The Gambling Supervision Commission
  • Tasmania – The Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission

In order to be featured on the whitelist, the government or other authority of these countries, territories, or jurisdictions have to submit presentations to the Secretary of State. After a rigorous vetting process, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport determines whether they meet the criteria in the guidance document or not. If they do – they are allowed to sell gambling products and services and advertise in the UK, and if they fail to comply, their application is rejected. So, feel safe to play at an online casino that bears the licence of any of the above listed countries and territories.

Keep in mind, though, that according to Section 331 of the Gambling Act 2005, all countries, territories or jurisdictions that are not part of the EEA and are located outside the UK and Gibraltar and are not on the UKGC’s whitelist, are forbidden from advertising and selling their gambling services or products on the territory of the UK.

How UK Gambling Laws Affect You

As a UK resident, you can have complete peace of mind that you’re playing on one of the safest and best regulated gambling markets, as the UK has one of the most rigorous regulatory regimes anywhere in the world. The UK Gambling Commission evaluates all licence applicants and ensures that all operators adhere to the established rules and regulations and that all bonus and other promotional offers are presented in a way that is not misleading or ambiguous.

The strict regulations are the operators’ concern but what you need to know is that all UK residents aged 18 or over can gamble online safely, as it legal to do so. In order to avoid fraud and malpractice, make sure you check whether the online casino is licenced by the UKGC or other authority on its whitelist – keep in mind that this is your obligation. If you fee like you’re being treated unfairly by a gambling operator, you can turn to one of the 11 alternative dispute resolution (ADR) providers approved by the UK Gambling Commission.

It’s also useful to know that there are many organisations in the UK that offer help and support for compulsive gambling and addiction. Another benefit you have as a British gambler is the fact that gambling winnings aren’t considered to be a taxable income in the UK, which exempts you from paying tax on any sum you make through your betting or gaming. Although the government does tax the operators, this has no effect on you as a customer.

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