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.
The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) oversees more than 3,600 gambling licences and at least 2,650 gaming operators, generating a gross gambling yield (CGY) of £14.12 billion. Moreover, remote gambling generated a £3.1 billion CGY between April 2020 and September 2020 from at least 175 online casinos in the UK.
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.
The first step when getting started on online gambling is identifying your niche. Is it sports betting, casino games such as slots and roulette, bingo, lotteries, or live casino games?
If you love sports betting but are also enthusiastic about poker, you want a provider with a good sportsbook alongside a casino that has many poker rooms. Perhaps you may also wish to factor in a live dealer (more on these types of online gambling later).
Another useful consideration is whether your gambling site has the payment method you are looking for, relevant licences, and a good reputation. Also, ongoing partnerships with independent organisations are evidence of social responsibility.
This is the first step of signing up once you have found your gambling provider. It only involves submitting your first and last name, date of birth (to show you are over 18 years old), email address, and residence address.
This step is where things get a little more demanding. The page asking for proof of identity and residence often comes up once you have registered your details. You may have to prove your identity followed by residence on separate pages, or they may all appear on the same page.
Here, the gambling site needs to know that you are the person you claim to be and live in the country you claim to come from. Among the documents you may use to offer proof of identity is:
For your proof of residence, you may upload a:
Remember that these documents must contain your name and be no older than three months. If you are wondering, you don't have to upload them all. You only need one document for your proof of identity and one for your proof of residence. Moreover, you can take a photo with your smartphone and upload it, although sometimes you have to send it via email.
You will likely only have to take this step if you deposit large sums of money and place high-stakes bets. It is a regulation that all betting sites must adhere to as part of the government's anti-money laundering campaign. Among the common documents for this step are:
In this case, you will also need to prove that the account used for your high income is the same one used to fund your betting profile. Remember that you probably won't have to provide this type of verification if you don't bet with big sums of money.
These KYC procedures may seem like a lot to handle, but you could finish fast if you know what to expect and have the right documents ready. It is also worth mentioning that betting sites licensed in the UK usually adhere to high security and privacy standards, so it is unlikely your personal information will be compromised.
The signup process is over by now, but you may still be unable to wager on anything unless you fund your account. There may be bonuses and free bets, but most sites don't issue them until you fulfil some requirements, which often include a minimum deposit amount or a wager at specified odds.
You want a betting site with a comprehensive selection of payment options to find a convenient way of funding and withdrawing from your gambling account. E-Wallets come highly recommended because they are fast and secure. Depositing is often instant for all funding methods. However, e-wallets are faster when withdrawing your winnings.
Some sites will only let you withdraw via the same funding method, so be sure to use one that you are comfortable with both ways.
You can deposit by going to your account and clicking "deposit" or "banking". It is never hard to find. The betting site will usually redirect you to the e-wallet or ask for your card details in the case of debit card deposits (credit cards are not allowed in the UK).
As mentioned earlier, you may find various types of gambling sites. You will also often find various options under one roof. Here are the six most popular gambling offerings.
Online sports betting is among the most popular gambling activities in the UK. The two most common sports for punters are football and horse racing. They are followed by greyhounds (racing), boxing, tennis, and golf. However, most bookies offer more than 20 sports, while the top betting sites have up to 50 sports.
Football is the most favoured sport and boasts hundreds of matches and betting markets worldwide. You will likely find matches from Europe, Brazil, Asia, and Africa, including the less popular ones.
In horse racing, the pages are mostly dominated by UK and Irish meetings, followed by select international competitions from the USA, Japan, UAE, and South Africa, among others. Horse racing, too, boasts an extensive range of betting markets and numerous promotions.
The most common promotion in horse racing is the best odds guaranteed (BOG), where you can bet days in advance of the meeting and should the odds at the start of the race, also called the starting price (sp), be more than the one you staked, your winnings are based on the sp.
Other games to expect in the sportsbooks include rugby league and rugby union, American football, hockey, Gaelic football, baseball, volleyball, formula 1, badminton, ice hockey, snooker, water polo, table tennis, handball, cricket, futsal, martial arts, etc.
It is common for betting sites to include a "specials" category or "politics", where you can bet on current political events such as the next prime minister. The specials category may also have entertainment punts such as the next winner of the Eurovision and so on.
Online casino games are very popular among bettors, with the top bookies offering the casino section beside the sportsbook on the same betting site or mobile app.
Slots are especially cherished by online casino enthusiasts, representing over 63% of online casino activity in the UK. You will find more than 1,000 slots on the top online casinos, while the newer sites have them in the hundreds.
NetEnt, Pragmatic Play, Yggdrasil Gaming, QuickSpin, and International Game Technology (IGT) are among the top slots providers for online casinos. There are many other providers, so you will always find slots offerings from up to 10 game providers or more from any single online casino.
One thing that punters love about online slots is the ability to get spins for as low as a few pennies. There are numerous promotions, free spins, cash backs, price boosts, jackpots of up to millions of pounds, and more.
Roulette represents about 13.5% of online casino activities, while blackjack comes in at 6.1%. They both offer a fair selection of variations. For instance, an online casino such as Grosvenor has more than ten roulette tables and up to 15 blackjack offerings. The same trend can be observed among other top online casinos.
Poker is also very popular among online casinos, boasting up to more than 30 tables on high-street gambling sites such as bet365. At the same time, PokerStars has up to 26 unique online tournaments, including the Sunday Million, which has a prize pool of $1 million (£820,000+).
Other great poker sites include 888Poker, Unibet Poker, Partypoker, Paddy Power Poker, and Ladbrokes Poker. You will find that the top gambling sites usually offer great products in almost every category.
Lotto betting is big in the UK, with sites such as Lottoland allowing you to bet even on the traditional lottery competitions such as the Irish Lotto and The National Lottery (UK).
You may also join syndicates where you buy shares into a large ticket pool, and if your syndicate wins, the prize is distributed according to shares bought by each member. Jackpot.com is one popular place to join a lottery syndicate.
Other UK gambling sites dedicated to lottery betting include lottomart, Giant Lottos, Multi Lotto, and Lottokings.
Bingo has been making a major comeback in the UK over the last few years. Almost every top online gambling site with a casino also has a bingo section, while many others have exclusive bingo websites and mobile apps.
Popular online bingo sites such as Heart Bingo boast over ten rooms, while others such as Fabulous Bingo have as many as 20 rooms.
Part of the Bingo appeal is its social nature. Most sites have chat rooms where bingo lovers can interact and share ideas or rumours, making it so much fun. Another key attraction of online bingo is that you have a room going live nearly every minute.
What's more, unlike land-based bingo, you don't have to manually mark the numbers on your ticket. The computer takes care of that. Also, you can have many tickets, and the computer will display the one closest to winning at the top, while the rest continue to get marked in the background.
Having a human dealer in an online casino gives a more realistic feel, which is where live casino sites come in. They feature poker, baccarat, roulette, and other casino games with live dealers. Most online casino sites have a regular automated casino section alongside the live section.
The minimum stakes for casino games when dealing with a live dealer are usually higher, but the games are more interactive.
The top casinos with live dealers are 888 Casino, Virgin Games, and Casumo. These sites have over 20 live dealers.
Our online gambling site checklist contains key features that matter the most to a bettor. They are things that you, too, might want to consider before picking a gambling site. Here we go:
The UK Gambling Commission licenses UK betting sites and holds them to high standards, ensuring they pass various checks involving data security, privacy, and responsible gambling. You know you can trust a gambling site if the UKGC oversees it.
Other gambling authorities, such as the Malta Gaming Authority and the Gibraltar Gambling Commission, are respectable, too. Most platforms will have any of these licences for international markets alongside one from the UKGC for the UK market.
However, if a platform does not hold a UKGC licence, you might not have access to features such as GamStop.
In addition to licences from trusted authorities, you can tell a gambling site is safe if they use Secure socket Layer (SSL) encryption. This certificate is the same level of security that banks employ, so you know you are getting the best protection if your gambling provider uses it.
We are talking about hundreds of gambling sites in the UK market. The competition is stiff, and you are the prize, so it is common practice to be enticed with a welcome bonus.
However, there's more to betting offers than just a high amount. Some betting sites will be very strict about the way they issue the bonus. For example, most demand a minimum deposit of about £10 and a stake at odds of 2.0 (1/1) or higher. You may also have to wager with your winnings from the bonus before you can withdraw them.
The best welcome bonus balances a large sum and flexible wagering requirements.
The site's ease of navigation matters a lot. So does the ability to access as many features as possible. For user experience, we also award smooth colour themes that are not overwhelming to look at. It also helps to have additional features such as live streaming and bet building under one roof.
Some sites excel in the sportsbook, others offer a great casino, but most will provide more than one gambling option. The best bookies nail several offerings, including a sportsbook, casino, live casino, poker, and bingo section.
As a plus, the bookie should also have all these sections under one roof and make them accessible from the same user account. This accessibility allows you to try out various gambling experiences without opening numerous accounts and going through endless KYC procedures.
You want to be spoilt for choices in an era with over 50 payment methods in the country. The gambling platform does not have to list all 50, but they should at least give you a good range of banking methods, including bank transfers, debit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, and maestro, and e-wallets such as PayPal, Skrill, Ecopayz, Neteller, etc.
Some gambling sites will offer the above methods and many more. Others will have just a few but offer key options that you will find useful. For instance, you may be comfortable where there is Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal only. Still, the more options, the better.
The majority of internet users are on mobile phones today. Online gambling providers understand this, so they provide betting apps for Android and iOS. Most established platforms will have mobile apps and many competitive new betting sites.
Mobile apps often come with extra features such as integration with payment apps and automated reminders when exciting offers are available or when your favourite bingo room is about to go live. Some apps will also have exclusive promotions you won't find on the website.
You might have problems with your account or need clarification from the gambling company. Perhaps not. Either way, it is best to have a responsive customer support team. Live chat is standard nowadays, and you want it 24/7.
Some new betting sites have it up to midnight or 11 pm, while others don't have a live chat, which is a turn-off. Other customer support channels include email, phone numbers, social media, and FAQs. Phone communication is fast, too, but emails take longer.
FAQs are often very helpful as they answer users' most common questions. You will likely find a few answers in the FAQ section. However, FAQs do not provide any room for asking new questions.
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:
GamStop is a gambling self-exclusion platform that operates independently to help resolve problem gambling. It is a service available to UK players, and all UK gambling sites must have it. Therefore, any gambling platform that the UKGC licenses must collaborate with GamStop.
To subscribe to this service, you begin by logging onto your GamStop account and choosing a period of exclusion from gambling according to your needs. This period ranges from six months to five years, during which you will not be able to access any betting site in the UK.
Moreover, this service is entirely voluntary, such that you are the one to register on GamStop once you realise that you have a destructive habit of gambling. The registration usually requires details such as:
GamStop prioritises confidentiality and security, so you know your private affairs will not leak from the platform's end.
It is a great solution if you suffer from problem gambling or financial losses. Once registered, you cannot back off and remove your name from the ban until the said exclusion period is over.
However, GamStop has no jurisdiction over sites registered outside the UK. It also doesn't work for land-based casinos. Still, it would be best to choose gambling sites with GamStop. If you are not a problem gambler, you won't need it. Yet if you ever find yourself in trouble, you would be lucky to be in a position to self-exclude from gambling activities.