Before you decide to sign up to a UK slot site, casino or online sportsbook you’ll probably want to know more about how the gambling industry is regulated in this country. After all, when you choose to gamble online you are handing your money over to a third party. You want to be confident that they are competent enough to handle your transactions securely and that they will provide you with a fair and safe gaming experience.
At TheSlotBuzz we have written this guide to UK Gambling Law and Licensing to show you how the industry is regulated, what checks are in place to ensure operators behave fairly and responsibly, your own obligations as a customer, and how the law affects you in the event of a dispute between yourself and your casino.
Is Online Gambling Legal in the UK?
Starting with the basics, online gambling in the UK is legal and the market here is well regulated.
Two recent pieces of legislation have established the parameters within which gambling can take place in this country. These are the 2005 Gambling Act and 2014 Gambling Act (Licensing and Advertising).
Whilst in the days before the 2014 Act it was legal for an offshore operator to transact with gamblers in the UK without owing a license, since the 2014 Act that has all changed. Now, no business – on or offshore – is permitted to take bets from a customer, or advertise a gambling product, without having a UK gambling license issued by The UK Gambling Commission.
All this means that as a player, provided you only play at casinos with UK licenses, then you will always be afforded a strong level of protection in the UK and can be confident that you are gambling in a safe, fair and secure environment.
On the flipside meanwhile, for operators there is also a level of protection as acting fraudulently as a customer is a criminal offence. This includes using false information to create an account or gambling with a stolen credit, debit card or other payment details. This is something that as a customer you MUST NOT do!!
How Is UK Gambling Regulated in the UK?
What is a UK Gambling License?
UK licenses are administered by The UK Gambling Commission, and as we have already said, they are essential to any operator wishing to enter the UK gambling market.
As a customer you should never register, deposit, or place a bet online with a casino that does not display its UK license credentials on its website. You should be able to see the details clearly in the site footer, along with the company name and address.
You can also find a list of UK Gambling License holders on the UK Gambling Commission website. All sites listed on The Slot Buzz are UK licensed. You can see the license numbers on our slot site review pages.
Sometimes businesses will have one license under which they operate two or more casino brands. Some operators will also sub-license to third parties, allowing a non-gaming business to market a casino under their own brand name without having to have their own license. Both these arrangements are perfectly legal. Check out our listings of slot sites by operator to find out more.
NOTE: Almost all gambling operators in the UK are based in jurisdictions outside the UK where there are favourable tax conditions and the government also issues their own licenses. For this reason, you will see information relating to a UK license and a foreign license on most sites. You can read more about these other gambling jurisdictions in our licensing guides.
2005 Gambling Act
The UK Gambling Act of 2005 set out to regulate the wide range of gambling activities in the UK, from lotteries and bingo and arcade halls, to fixed odds terminals in betting shops, and everything happening as a result of the explosive growth of remote gambling websites.
A key part of the act was the formation of the UK Gambling Commission.
The UK Gambling Commission
Who Are They?
The UK Gambling Commission was set up in 2005 to regulate all commercial gambling in the UK through the administration of licenses.
The Commission is a non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Media, Culture and Sport. It effectively took over from the Gaming Board for Great Britain, to regulate almost all gambling activities in the UK, though with the exception of spread betting, which comes under the Financial Conduct Authority.
What Do They Do?
The main objectives of the Commission are as follows:
- To prevent online gambling from being used by criminals in areas like fraudulent operations and money laundering. And to prevent customers from defrauding operators.
- To ensure fairness and transparency in the operations of online gambling. This would cover areas like the representation of bonuses online, and the clearness of terms and conditions.
- To protect under 18s and those who are vulnerable from being exploited by online gambling businesses.
As well as issuing licenses to online casinos, the commission can also issue warnings and levy fines for operators who breach the rules. In extreme cases they may also be able to revoke a license.
They also advise the government and local government on any issues relating to gambling.
In extreme cases where illegal activity is suspected, the commission would be tasked with investigating and potentially prosecuting the operator.
The UKGC should be seen as body who aim to work with gambling operators to ensure a fair and safe environment in which customers can freely pursue their hobby.
Even so, whilst their track record has not been one of aggressively clamping down on lax operators, the current Chief Executive, Sarah Harrison, has taken a more stringent stance, and in 2017, several bookmakers and casinos were fined massive sums for failing in their obligations.
For a proper breakdown of the latest conditions for license holders, you can read the full License Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) on the UK Gambling Commission website.
Changes to Gambling Law and the 2014 Gambling Act
Before the 2014 Gambling Act (Licensing and Advertising) it was still possible to advertise and take bets from UK customers without holding a UK license if your business was based in any of the territories white-listed by the government (including Alderney, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man).
Following the 2014 Act this changed, and it is now a requirement of ALL operators advertising and taking commercial bets in the UK to be licensed here, regardless of the location of the business.
This change in legislation allowed the government to implement a new tax of 15% on gambling operators whose businesses were based outside of the UK. This levy is called the Point of Consumption tax. It refers to the territory in which the customer places their bet, the UK.
UK Gambling Laws on Advertising
One of the three key aims of the UK Gambling Commission is to ensure fairness and transparency in the industry. This aim applies to advertising as much as it does to operations.
Where advertising is concerned, responsibility for ensuing that regulations are followed also falls under the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
You can read more about the guidance they offer to gambling businesses on their website.
Rules for gambling ads are designed to ensure that they are socially responsible and do not promote gambling to under 18s, or set out to exploit those who are vulnerable. Neither should they appear to show gambling as an answer to debt problems, or as a sure-fire way to financial or sexual success, or as a rite of passage.
These rules also cover transparency in advertising bonuses and offers, including representation of terms and conditions.
You can find a breakdown of the latest rulings by the ASA in this area on their website.
If you would like to raise a complaint with ASA then you can do so on their website.
Complaints and Disputes
It is part of the gambling license rules that operators must take all reasonable steps to deal with a customer complaint. That means that should you feel that you have not been treated fairly, then you can raise the issue and expect to have it dealt with.
Every casino you deal with will have a standard complaints procedure that they will adhere to, with escalation from Customer Support to a more senior management. In the majority of cases disputes will be resolved in this way. Sometimes, though a customer will continue to challenge the opinion or level of service they been provided.
In such cases the UK Gambling Commission is not there to mediate and if you are not able to resolve your issue satisfactorily with the operator, you may have to move on to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service provided by an organization like eCORGA or IBAS.
You can read more about this process, and the various ADRs you can turn to in our Gambling Complaints guide.
Online gambling operators are also required under the terms of their license to promote Responsible Gambling. There are various ways in which they can do this, but first and foremost they are required to empower customers to manage their spends through online tools like deposits, loss and wagering limits, time-outs and self-excludes.
These features, which a customer can find in their account pages, are just one aspect of Responsible Gaming. Operators must also ensure that they are diligent in monitoring customer accounts to look for patterns of behaviour that may suggest a player has a gambling problem, and also to discover and report criminal behaviour.
This is a big part of UK gambling regulation and compliance – read more in our Responsible Gambling guide, which includes details of many organisations you can approach if you feel you may have a gambling problem.