Gambling is a popular pastime in the UK for people aged 18 or over. Roughly 32% of UK adults gamble at least once per week. 10.5 million adults in the UK choose to gamble online through a variety of online gambling websites.
For this reason, a raft of laws and regulations are in place to make sure that the UK is a safe place to gamble. The UK government has taken an approach that instead of restricting gambling, attempts to make it as safe and fair as possible.
As a result of government influence and regulatory control, the UK is now one of the cleanest, crime-free places to gamble in the world. The UK has managed to achieve this without too many restrictions that prevent the freedom to gamble.
This guide will look at how gambling and online gambling are governed in the UK, specifically what the current laws are and how they are enforced. We’ll also look at how responsible gambling is encouraged in the UK and measures that are in place to help problem gamblers.
The Gambling Act 2005 is the primary law that covers online gambling and land-based gambling in the UK.
Within the Gambling Act 2005, there are three main objectives, which are as follows:
To obtain a licence to offer a gambling service in the UK, businesses need to prove that they are meeting all of the above objectives.
The UKGC is the body that licences and regulates gambling in the UK.
The main focus of the UKGC is to stop rogue traders from exploiting members of the public with unfair games, refusal of payouts, and other criminal practices. They also regulate the industry to make sure that they provide help and support to vulnerable people such as problem gamblers or compulsive gambling addicts.
The UKGC oversees the following areas of gambling and gaming:
Please note that the UKGC does not oversee or regulate spread betting, as this is controlled by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) due to its connection with the stock markets and trading.
The UKGC is a non-departmental public body, which means that it is sponsored by the government (the Department for Culture, Media and Sport), but is independent of government influence.
Due to increasing public and media pressure, in 2018 the UKGC released a revised set of objectives, promising to raise industry standards, especially in the area of protecting vulnerable members of the public from potential financial harm. In early 2021, the commission announced that it would invite public discussion on problem gambling and how to tackle it.
As the main body in charge of licensing gambling operators, the UKGC has the power to issue and revoke licenses, as well as levying fines for regulatory non-compliance. The UKGC also advises the government and local councils on anything gambling-related.
Another important part of the UKGC gambling license is that online operators must follow two main financial guidelines:
The Gambling Act 2005 gave the UKGC the power to prevent foreign online gambling operators from advertising their services in the UK without a valid UKGC license. However, the law made an exception for certain countries, which became known as UKGC Whitelisted Gambling Jurisdictions, which is made up of the following countries:
However, since the passing of the Gambling Licensing and Advertising Bill 2014, gambling operators that are on the whitelist are required to apply for a UKGC license to provide their services in the UK, as well as paying 15% tax on any profit made from paying customers in the UK.
Next, let’s take a more in-depth look at the way UK gambling law deals with different types of gambling.
Online sports betting, as with all online and land-based gambling in the UK, is regulated by the UKGC. As long as an operator holds a UKGC license and complies with regulations, they can offer a sports betting service.
The UKGC also provides guidance within their Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) that helps to prevent betting-related corruption in sport, such as football match-fixing or rigged boxing fights. To achieve this, the UKGC implemented the Sports Betting Intelligence Unit (SBIU).
The UKGC regulates online casinos by issuing a Gambling Software Operating license.
Businesses need one of these licenses if they:
The UKGC provides technical standards that must be complied with to gain a license, which includes rules on the randomness of outcomes, probability of winning, etc.
To summarise, all online casino operators that provide services in the UK need to be licensed by the UKGC and the companies that build the software to run on their sites or apps need to hold a Gambling Software Operating license.
When it comes to online bingo in the UK, the UKGC applies the same rules and regulations for licensing as online casinos (see section above).
Under UK law, lotteries of any kind must donate 20% of their profit to good causes such as charities or social development projects. Online lotteries must follow the same guidelines as set out for online casinos (see section above).
Online poker in the UK is regulated by the same guidelines as set out for online casinos (see section above). Providers of UK online poker must also make sure that they take steps to avoid cheating in poker games, such as applying collusion detection and checking for automated bots.
For brick and mortar casinos, fruit machines in pubs and clubs, private card games, bookmakers, etc. businesses and individuals must follow the guidance set out by the UKGC, including standards around social responsibility, anti-money laundering, and technical standards.
Unfortunately, gambling can become a compulsive behaviour for some individuals, which usually involves gambling more money than the person can afford to lose and spending more time on the activity than planned. It can also have a knock-on effect causing problems with debt, relationship problems, and employment issues.
There is a growing recognition of problem gambling in society and within the gambling industry itself. The Gambling Commission has introduced guidelines and regulations to make sure that betting companies promote responsible gambling to help avoid or alleviate some of the potential social problems.
The UKGC recommend the following tools to promote responsible gambling:
Gambling is defined as wagering money or items on the outcome of a game of chance (slots, roulette, blackjack, etc.) or betting on a desired result (winner of a horse race, winner of football match, next prime minister of the UK, etc). The probability of the events happening are worked out in advance and the gambling operator offers odds based on the chance of the event occurring.
Yes, online gambling sites are legal in the UK, but they must be licensed by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC).
The best way to check whether an online gambling site is safe in the UK is to look for the Gambling Commission logo on the homepage, which tells you that they are licensed by the UKGC. This means that the gambling service provided on that site is fair, honest, and that your money is safe.
Also, if the site belongs to the Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS) you’re unlikely to have any problems making withdrawals against your winnings, as you can follow it up through the court if you do. Most legitimate gambling sites will also promote responsible gambling and belong to other organisations and initiatives such as BeGambleAware.org and GamCare.
The easiest and most convenient way to block all gambling sites is to register with Gamstop, a free service that self-excludes you from any online gambling site that is licensed by the UKGC. You can choose to self-exclude for a period of 6 months, 1 year, or 5 years. Alternatively, you can go to each site and self-exclude manually.
If you have a gambling problem, you think you may be developing one, or you just want to take a break from gambling for a while, there is plenty of advice and support out there, as well as tools to help you. The best place to go initially is GamCare as they provide a vast array of free and impartial advice, support, and resources to help people to stop or cut down on their gambling.