Gambling laws between countries vary substantially. In the United Kingdom, many forms of online and in-person gambling are legal. Yet there are rules in place to help regulate the industry. Many of these laws apply more to gambling businesses. They stipulate how these businesses must run their operations in a way that is fair for players. Still, players need to know what is legal and what is not. This can ensure they stay out of trouble when gambling online and offline.
On this page, you’ll find a brief overview of the gambling laws in the United Kingdom. We then discuss these laws in-depth for those that want a comprehensive understanding. Before you start gambling, make sure you understand these laws to help you stay safe.
Overview of UK Gambling Laws
Many forms of gambling are legal in the UK thanks to the Gaming Act of 2005. This legislation loosened the previous gambling laws. It allows for more forms of betting to take place and defines
six forms of gambling. These are arcades, betting bingo, casinos, lotteries, and gaming machines. Each of these has its own set of rules, regulations, and licensing requirements.
Any UK resident or visitor can partake in these forms of betting if they are of legal gambling age. As per UK gambling laws, this is anyone over the age of eighteen. This also includes “remote gambling”. This refers to any form of gambling that doesn’t happen in person. Examples include over the internet, radio, telephone, or other non-remote methods. Postal services do not count as remote betting. The minimum age for online gambling in the UK is also set at eighteen.
The entire gambling industry is overseen by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC). This regulating body awards gambling licenses to betting facilities. Only those that meet the strict government criteria will receive accreditation. The UKGC then audits these establishments and sites. By doing so, it is acting as a safeguard for bettors to enjoy gambling without worry. For any business to start gambling operations, they legally must have a license from the UKGC.
Legal Definitions of Gambling Types
Below are the legal types of gambling and gambling facilities defined as per the UK gambling laws.
There are three types of arcades. Adult Gaming Centres (AGCs) have casino-style games and fruit machines. Family Entertainment Centres (FECs) cater to adults and children. They can include a range of gaming machines. Unlicensed Family Entertainment Centres (uFECs) smaller FECs that cannot serve alcohol. uFECs do not need licensing from the UKGA and instead need a local permit.
This covers all types of real money betting. Examples include betting on sports, horse racing, and greyhound racing. UK gambling laws also define several types of betting. “Fixed-odds betting”, “pool betting” and “spread betting” are all standard accepted betting types. There are then “betting prize competitions” which are fantasy leagues and football pools. Finally, “betting intermediaries” are operators that organise direct betting between two end parties.
There is no legal definition of bingo in the Gambling Act of 2005. However, the UKGA consider a game bingo if it follows three fundamental principles. It must be (1) a game of equal chance, (2) involve player participation, and (3) have a defined endpoint. Moreover, bingo can be held online or offline. Licensing is always needed for bingo except for running bingo fundraising events.
This refers to both brick-and-mortar casinos and online casinos. These are primarily reserved for table games and slot machines. Yet some UK casinos have permission to offer other casino games. Examples include poker, bingo, and betting. Brick-and-mortar casinos are generally categorised by size. This is based on the number of casino games available and the area of the games floor.
A lottery refers to a game based on chance where participants aim to win a prize. The definition includes pre-determined lotteries such as scratch cards games. Post-drawn lotteries such as Lotto, EuroMillions, and Thunderball also fall under this definition. Lotteries are different from raffles as players can choose their lottery numbers. This means there could be many winning participants if they all chose the same numbers. Lottery tickets can only be sold from licensed lottery retailers.
These are available in UK casinos, betting shops, and bingo halls. They divide into categories based on their stakes and prizes. B1, B2, B3, B3A, B4, C, and D are all legal gambling machines in Great Britain. All bar D-style gaming machines need players to be at least eighteen. Moreover, some gaming machines are only acceptable on certain premises. For example, B1 gambling machines are only available in casinos.
History of UK Gambling Industry
Early Gambling in the UK
Gambling is no new addition to the United Kingdom. Actually, the country has allowed gambling for many years! In 1576, Queen Elizabeth made the first UK lottery. In the 1800s, horse racing became extremely popular. So much so that it then became a national sport. There was push-back from anti-gambling organisations, especially during WW2. Yet, the UK government continued to make gambling legal. They saw the activity as a form of relief and fun during the trying times.
Gambling Act of 2005
The Gambling Act of 2005 acted as the true turning point for the industry. This new gaming act saw significant liberalisation of the types of legal gambling. The legislation put in strict regulatory requirements to protect players. It also worked with the times to allow remote gambling via computers, radio, and mobile. Indeed, there are three main purposes of the new gambling act. These are as follows:
- Protecting children or other vulnerable persons from gambling.
- Improving gambling regulation to ensure that all gambling operations are fair for all players.
- Stopping gambling from being a crime or source of disorder in the United Kingdom.
Later Changes to Online Gambling Laws
In 2019, the UKGC made a few changes to the UK gambling laws. These changes are all related to online gambling regulation in the UK. One example is the addition of age verification across all licensed gambling sites.
Previously, laws allowed players 72 hours to provide identification. Now, UK residents must now provide proof they are of minimum age before they can make a deposit.
The following year, the UKGC banned businesses from accepting credit cards for gambling. This comes after a study found 22% of UK gamblers using their credit cards are problem gamblers. The ban on credit cards aims to encourage responsible gambling.
They hope it prevents players from betting with money they don’t have. Its aim it to help prevent gambling addiction from getting out of hand.
The following year, the UKGC banned businesses from accepting credit cards for gambling. This comes after a study found 22% of UK gamblers using their credit cards are problem gamblers. The ban on credit cards aims to encourage responsible gambling. They hope it prevents players from betting with money they don’t have. Its aim is to help prevent gambling addiction from getting out of hand. Regular annual updates ensure the legislation is still successful in protecting vulnerable adults.
General Operator Licenses
According to UK gambling laws, any business can apply to be a licensed gambling operator. They must pass the strict rules and licence conditions set out by the UKGC to be successful. Any company that receives accreditation can offer gambling to Great British citizens. This includes players in England, Scotland, and Wales. These companies can either be based in Great Britain themselves or located offshore. Moreover, there is no limit on the number of gambling licences the
UKGC can hand out. As long as they fulfil the regulatory requirements, there is no limit on the number of operators.
According to the UKGC website, the application process takes around 16 weeks. Businesses have to pay an application fee when submitting their application. This fee is based on the types of gambling activities the company seeks a licence for. Once a gambling license is issued, businesses then have 30 days to pay annual licensing fees. At this point, they can legally operate in the UK. Moreover, an operator can offer remote and online gambling under a “combined license”.
Special UK Gambling Laws for the Lottery
The UK National Lottery is governed by different laws from most forms of gambling. It is still regulated by the UK Gambling Commission. Unlike other forms of gambling though, there is only one licensee chosen as operator. The appointed body remains the sole lottery operator for 14 years. For these years the operator can enjoy a monopoly right over the industry. This is to protect the National Lottery from competition from other lotteries. Taking lottery bets through any other than an official lottery operator is illegal in the UK.
Offshore Gambling Laws in the UK
Offshore gambling refers to any that goes through an overseas operator. Examples include playing at an online casino based outside of Great Britain. Before 2005, offshore operators could offer services to UK citizens. This included both sites with licensing and without licensing from the UKGC. But any unlicensed UK operator running a business overseas was considered illegal. For example, an unlicensed London-based operator could be prosecuted. Yet unlicensed offshore operators letting UK players use their sites was considered legal.
There are obvious flaws in this system, so in 2005 things changed. The Gambling Act allowed UK operators to legally offer online gambling. As long as the operator has a UKGC licence, they can offer their services in the UK and offshore. But, offshore operators could also continue to offer services to UK players. They could do so legally without a UKGC license. They could only advertise in the country if they are in the European Economic Area. Those outside of the state couldn’t advertise in the UK market.
In 2014, things changed again. Many UK gambling operators were disadvantaged. They had to pay annual licensing fees to operate in the market. But offshore companies didn’t and could still legally run their business in the UK. The Gambling Licensing and Advertising Act of 2014 fixed this disparity. Now, only offshore sites with UKGC licensing could operate in the UK. Offshore operators also have to prove they have licenses in every state that they operate.
Penalties for Illegal Gambling in the UK
Despite the UK having liberal gambling laws, there are still rules in place. Anyone found to partake in illegal gambling and violate the Gambling Act of 2005 could face fines or jail time. This depends on the nature of the offence. Most apply to businesses breaching licensing rules rather than players gambling illegally. Below is a summary of some of the offences and associated penalties.
GAMBLING-RELATED OFFENCE ASSOCIATED PENALTY
Underage gambling Fines of up to £1,000
A gambling operator employing underage staff to work at their gambling facility Up to 51 weeks imprisonment and up to £5,000 in fines.
Cheating, attempting to cheat, or assisting another player with cheating Up to 51 weeks imprisonment and up to £5,000 in fines
Cheating, attempting to cheat, or assisting another player with cheating Up to 51 weeks imprisonment and up to £5,000 in finesOperators providing gambling services without a valid license from the UK Gambling Commission Up to 51 weeks imprisonment and up to £5,000 in fines
Breach of the laws related to advertising gambling services to British players Up to 51 weeks imprisonment and up to £5,000 in fines
Allowing players to use gambling machines without a license or permit for their use Up to 51 weeks imprisonment and up to £5,000 in fines