Gambling has long been popular in British culture. As far back as medieval times, people placed wagers on sports, board games, tournaments, jousting, and simple games of chance.
Exclusive Gaming Establishments Emerge
In the 1800s, the first UK gambling venues arose offering card games and similar entertainment to upper class gentlemen's clubs. Crockford's Casino, opening in 1828 in London, set the standard for these exclusive gaming destinations. Patrons included lords, politicians and other influential elite.
Horse racing tracks were also permitted to accept bets, while there were also underground betting rackets operating throughout major cities in the UK. The popular British cult series Peaky Blinders gives some insight into illegal gambling rackets during the early 20th century.
Legalisation Opens Gambling to the Masses
Prior to 1961, gambling was mostly limited to horse tracks and private clubs. This changed when new laws permitted betting shops to open publicly on high streets for the first time. Casinos also became officially legalised, paving the way for more glamorous establishments open to middle and working class patrons.
Today's Major Industry Players Dominate the Market
Presently, a few big hospitality groups operate most of the land-based casino in Britain. Genting and Rank Group are the largest, collectively owning over 80 gaming and entertainment venues. However, smaller chains like London's famous Hippodrome Casino also successfully attract visitors.
Bookmakers also broke ground with Britain's first licensed betting shops coming in 1961 following updated laws. As acceptance grew, companies raced to build national chains of local storefronts for sports betting and gambling. Pubs and clubs would soon introduce fruit machines, and slot shops also opened across the country. Customers could now conveniently access these services on their local high streets, and they still do today, with brands like Merkur Gaming now operating slot shops in British towns and cities.
Online Gambling Emerges
With the evolution of the internet coming into people’s homes via dial-up modems, the UK connected to the World Wide Web. The first online casinos in the country emerged in the mid-1990s, pioneered by companies like Microgaming and Cryptologic. These sites were based overseas, as online gambling was not yet regulated in the UK. There were also numerous online poker sites were also on the rise.
Already established British companies took interest though, and in 1998 the country’s first online sportsbook went live alongside the overseas online casinos. Back then, most of the casino games available were classic 3-reel slots, video poker, and virtual table games such as Blackjack, Baccarat, and Roulette.
As for player safety, eCogra was the main authority providing player support. Casinos that wanted to show they were playing fairly would opt-in to follow the eCogra framework and gain a seal of approval. It became so well-renowned that most players would steer clear of any online casino not using the eCogra seal of approval. However, the protection and game testing provided by eCogra was not enough to satisfy the UK government, which was also concerned about the amount of gambling money heading overseas.
2005 Law Establishes Gambling Commission
The Gambling Act 2005 introduced a licensing system and regulatory body to govern remote gambling in Great Britain. Major established gambling operators were amongst the first to achieve licenced status under new rules in 2007, allowing them to legally offer online casinos and wagering to British consumers. The rules did not only apply to online casinos. It also meant that software providers needed to register with Britian’s new licensing authority, which is still in place today – the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC).
Today UKGC rules apply to land-based and online gambling entertainment establishments and software providers like Microgaming, Blueprint Gaming, and Playtech, which were some of the major players in the UK market at the time.
The Era of Broadband
The next big step in the evolution of online gambling in the UK was the introduction of broadband. Slow dial-up modems were replaced by high-speed internet able to handle more data through its expanded bandwidth. Online casinos and software providers were quick to evolve, bringing out 3D slots with animations, larger reel configurations such as the 5×3 slots and networked progressive jackpots.
Today, internet bandwidth is rarely an issue and online casino developers have been able to produce Megaways slots, slots that Pay Anywhere, and even games that can produce a finite number of reels, such as those found under providers like Reel Play, NetEnt, and Yggdrasil’s game portfolios. On top of this, software providers like Pragmatic Play Live, Playtech, and Evolution offer players live casino gaming, giving them a land-based gaming experience with real-life dealer, table and cards streamed directly from their desktop, tablet or mobile.
Next, games are 3G, and then 4G networks and smartphones. At first, casinos developed apps, but as internet browsers have evolved, apps are no longer needed. This meant online casinos had to make some major changes to their websites, adapting them to work with the latest HTML5 web browser code, allowing players to access their casinos from any mobile operating system as long as it has an HTML-compatible browser.
Ongoing Reforms in the UK Strengthen Protection
While the 2005 law created the initial framework, extra reforms continue to evolve regulations around modern digital gambling. The latest changes impose further responsible gambling obligations like affordability checks and wager limits. So, the UK maintains a controlled gambling environment focused on consumer safety, and online gambling sites with UKGC licensing are considered some of the safest and most trustworthy places to gamble online today.