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Guide To Online Gambling In The UK

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 Current UK Gambling Laws

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:

  • The prevention of gambling being entangled with crime, either as a source of crime, associated with criminal behaviour or as a support system for crime.
  • Making sure that the gambling industry operates in a fair and transparent way.
  • Protecting children and vulnerable groups from being exploited or harmed by gambling.

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.

What Is The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC)?

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:

  • Slot machines
  • Bingo
  • Casinos
  • Arcade gambling - penny falls, crane grab machines, etc. (AKA Cat D gaming machines)
  • Betting - bookmakers
  • Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs)
  • Lotteries

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:

  • Protection of customer funds - Operators must be transparent about what they do to protect customer funds if the company becomes insolvent and how payouts will be guaranteed.
  • Segregation of customer funds from business funds - Operators must keep customer funds in a separate account to the working capital of the business, a process known as ring-fencing funds. This adds an extra layer of protection for gambling customers in the UK.

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:

  • EEA Countries
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Alderney
  • Gibraltar
  • Isle of Man
  • Tasmania

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.

UK Law on Online Sports Betting

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).

UK Law on Online Casinos

The UKGC regulates online casinos by issuing a Gambling Software Operating license.

Businesses need one of these licenses if they:

  • Supply, produce or install gambling software that is used in the UK by a licensed gambling operator, regardless of the company’s location.
  • Are based in the UK and supply, produce, or install gambling software that is to be used outside of the UK by operators that are not licensed by the UKGC.

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.

UK Law on Online Bingo 

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).

UK Law on Online Lottery or Lotto

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).

UK Law on Online Poker 

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.

UK Law on Land-based Gambling

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.

How to Gamble Responsibly

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:

  • Betting limits on gaming machines - This applies mainly to FOBT machines in bookmakers and is a voluntary limit that customers can apply to the machine they are playing on. Once the loss limit is reached, £100 for instance, the machine will enforce a break of 30 seconds, giving the player time to think about whether they want to continue or not.
  • Deposit limits for online gambling - Online betting sites that are licensed by the UKGC should encourage customers to set a deposit limit. There are various options - daily, weekly, or monthly limits of varying amounts. Once this limit is reached, the customer is not allowed to deposit any more funds until the chosen time period has elapsed.
  • Time outs - Time outs are an online gambling feature which are a voluntary self-imposed block from playing on that site. Online gambling sites must offer time outs of one day, one week, one month, or any reasonable customer request of up to six weeks. 
  • Self exclusion - This is the most severe option for people that have a serious gambling problem or think they are developing one. UKGC-licensed online gambling sites and land-based gambling establishments must offer patrons the opportunity to self-exclude from their services. This means that people can block themselves from the site for a more extended set period of time. The minimum self-exclusion period is six months with a maximum of 5 years on most sites. Land-based operators are required to become members of a Multi-Operator Self-Exclusion Scheme (MOSES) to allow people to ban themselves from multiple sites in one application.
  • Gamstop - Players can stop access to all online gambling sites that are licensed by the UKGC by signing up to GAMSTOP a free service which provides online self-exclusion.
  • Software tools - Individuals can install blocking software on their devices which prevents access to any gambling sites. Betblocker and Gamban are the two most well-known ones.
  • Professional help - Problem gamblers can access help through GamCare, a service that provides free advice, resources, and support for compulsive gamblers. It is funded by the gambling industry, but it is independent of their control, which means they offer impartial professional advice and support. You can also contact your GP if you are concerned about a gambling problem and require immediate support.
  • Self-help - There are numerous forums, books, and blogs online that can help people to deal with a gambling problem. There are also self-help groups such as Gamblers Anonymous that use group therapy and 12-step programs to help people overcome their problems.

Gambling FAQs

What is gambling?
Are gambling sites legal in the UK?
How much is a gambling license?
How do I know if an online gambling site is safe?
How to block all gambling sites?
How to stop gambling?

Olivia is responsible for all content on BettingGuide UK. Olivia has a degree in journalism from Cardiff University and loves to play different casino games in her spare time. If you have any questions regarding online gambling in the UK, don't hesitate to contact her.

Last updated: 4/26/2022