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Gambling Laws in the United Kingdom 2023

Author: Preston Davis | Updated: July 17, 2023

The regulation of gambling varies globally. Physical and online gambling are regulated in the UK under strict rules. These regulations mainly concern gambling enterprises, outlining fair operation guidelines. Yet, players need to understand legal and illegal to avoid legal trouble.

This page briefly summarises UK gambling laws, followed by a more detailed exploration. Familiarising yourself with these laws is crucial before engaging in any gambling activity.

A Snapshot of UK Gambling Laws

The Gaming Act of 2005 legalised many forms of gambling in the UK. This act eased prior laws, expanded betting choices, and established six gambling forms: arcades, Betting, bingo, casinos, lotteries, and gaming machines. 

Each category has distinct rules, regulations, and licensing requirements.

UK residents and visitors can participate in these activities if they are 18 or older. This age limit extends to “remote gambling”, a term for non-in-person gambling methods, such as internet, radio, and telephone gambling. Postal services are not considered remote Betting. The minimum online gambling age is also 18.

The United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) regulates the gambling industry. It issues licenses to gambling facilities that satisfy rigorous government standards. The UKGC also conducts audits to ensure player safety. A UKGC license is necessary for legal gambling operations.

These are the legally defined gambling types and facilities per UK gambling laws.

Arcades are divided into three types: Adult Gaming Centres (AGCs), Family Entertainment Centres (FECs), and Unlicensed Family Entertainment Centres (uFECs). AGCs feature casino games and fruit machines. FECs offer various gaming machines for both adults and children. uFECs, small FECs that don't serve alcohol, require a local permit, not a UKGA license.


Betting involves all real money wagers, including sports, horse, and greyhound racing. “Fixed-odds betting”, “pool betting”, and “spread betting” are defined under UK gambling laws. “Betting prize competitions” include fantasy leagues and football pools. “Betting intermediaries” are operators arranging direct Betting between two parties.


The Gambling Act of 2005 does not provide a legal bingo definition. Still, the UKGA identifies bingo if three principles are met: it must be a game of equal chance, involve player participation, and have a defined endpoint. Bingo can be online or offline; licensing, except for fundraising events, is generally needed.


Casinos can be physical or online, mainly offering table games and slot machines. Some UK casinos can offer other games like poker, bingo, and Betting. Casinos are typically categorised by size based on game availability and the gaming floor's size.

Lotteries A lottery is a game of chance to win prizes, including predetermined and post-drawn lotteries. Lottery players can choose their numbers, potentially resulting in multiple winners. Only licensed lottery retailers can sell tickets.

Gaming Machines

These machines are found in UK casinos, betting shops, and bingo halls. The machines are categorised based on their stakes and prizes. Some gaming machines are age-restricted and venue-specific.

The Evolution of the UK Gambling Industry

Gambling has been a part of the UK tradition for many years. The first lottery was launched in 1576 by Queen Elizabeth, and horse racing became a national sport in the 1800s. Despite opposition, the UK government consistently supported gambling legality.

The Gambling Act of 2005 significantly liberalised legal gambling. It introduced robust regulatory requirements for player protection and modernised to include remote gambling. The act's main goals were:

  • Protecting children and vulnerable people from gambling harm or exploitation.
  • Ensuring fair and open gambling.
  • Preventing gambling from becoming a source of crime or disorder.

In 2019, the UKGC updated UK gambling laws, specifically for online gambling regulation. Key changes included mandatory age verification across all licensed sites. In 2020, the UKGC banned credit card use for gambling to promote responsible gambling and control addiction. The legislation is updated annually.

Acquiring General Operator Licenses

According to UK laws, any business can apply for a licensed gambling operator status by meeting the UKGC's strict rules. Any licensed company can offer gambling services to Great Britain citizens. These businesses can operate in Great Britain or offshore. The application process typically takes around 16 weeks, and a fee is required upon application. Once licensed, businesses can legally operate after paying the annual licensing fees within 30 days.

Special Lottery Laws in the UK

The UK National Lottery operates under different laws but is still regulated by the UKGC. Misuse of lottery profits is punishable by imprisonment of 51 weeks and fines of up to £5,000. Operating a lottery without a UKGC permit or operating a National Lottery without UKGC permission are serious offences with substantial penalties.

UK Government Proposes Stricter Online Gambling Regulations

The UK government is proposing stricter regulations for online casinos to overhaul British gambling laws. However, most measures will undergo further consultations, suggesting additional delays to the anticipated changes.

Unveiling of Proposals in White Paper

The outcome of a review launched in 2020 will be published in a white paper on Thursday, following numerous postponements. With this, ministers plan to introduce measures to enhance gambling safety after a series of high-profile cases where customers experienced severe losses or committed suicide.

Major Proposed Changes

The proposed changes to be unveiled in the white paper include:

  • An obligatory levy on industry revenues.
  • Restrictions on online slot machine stakes, limited between £2 and £15.
  • Implementation of measures to decelerate online casino games.
  • Relaxation of restrictions for land-based casinos.
  • Government-initiated safer gambling campaigns.
  • Introducing “light-touch” affordability checks.

Hotly Debated Measures: Affordability Checks and Digital Marketing Restrictions

However, several hotly debated measures like affordability checks for heavy loss-making gamblers, limitations on digital marketing, and the precise cap level for online slot machine stakes are expected to undergo further consultation due to legislative backlog in parliament.

Stakes on Online Slot Machine Games

Stakes for online slot machine games are currently unlimited, despite having some of the highest addiction rates of any gambling product. Proposed changes include limits of £2 for under-25s, aligning with the cap for customers of all ages on shop-based fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). The exact levels for older players, potentially up to £15 per spin, will be decided later.

Light-Touch Approach on Affordability Checks

Regarding affordability checks aimed at preventing financial ruin, a light-touch approach is expected. This might entail credit checks when customers reach a certain loss threshold. The Gambling Commission is anticipated to be asked to consult on the specifics of these checks.

Digital Marketing Restrictions

Restrictions on digital marketing, such as “free” bets or bonus promotions, are also expected to be put to further consultation. Despite the industry's lobbying against stringent checks, ministers are expected to impose them.

Mandatory Levy on Industry Revenues

Industry revenues will be subjected to a mandatory 1% gross gaming yield levy to fund addiction education, treatment, and research. The sector's current voluntary contributions vary per company.

Department of Health's New Role

The Department of Health is also expected to assume responsibility for safer gambling messages, presently managed by the industry and GambleAware charity.

Loosening of Rules for Land-Based Casinos

While online gambling will see tighter regulations, land-based casinos will experience a loosening of rules. Smaller casinos can increase their gambling machines from 20 to 80, and more upscale venues can offer credit to high-rollers from abroad.

Final Thoughts

The measures aim to ensure safer gambling environments and protect vulnerable individuals. However, these regulatory changes may be altered based on further consultations and feedback.

Available Support

In case of emotional distress and crisis, various helplines are available internationally. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted by email at [email protected].


Are all forms of gambling legal in the UK?

In the UK, not every form of gambling is allowed. The Gambling Act 2005 sets apart legal gamblers from unlawful ones with clear definitions and guidelines.

What is the legal age for gambling in the UK?

In the UK, most forms of gambling are only allowed for individuals aged 18 and up. Nevertheless, there are several exceptions - lottery tickets, some arcade games and certain sports betting events can be accessed at a younger age.

Are online gambling sites regulated in the UK?

In the United Kingdom, online gambling is tightly regulated by the UK Gambling Commission. The strict oversight of this commission guarantees that all participating websites are secure and fair to gamblers, while also promoting responsible gaming behavior.

Can individuals or businesses apply for a gambling license in the UK?

Both individuals and companies can apply for a gambling license in the UK. There are an array of licenses available to suit any kind of gaming activity.

What are the penalties for operating an unlicensed gambling business in the UK?

Severe penalties, including fines, imprisonment and the seizure of assets await those who operate an unlicensed gambling business in the UK. The punishment is based on how extensive the operation is and how much damage it has caused to others.

What is the role of the UK Gambling Commission?

The UK Gambling Commission is the governing body that ensures gambling remains safe and well-regulated within the United Kingdom. It issues licenses to operators, enforces regulations for those engaged in gambling activities, and protects consumers from any potential harm associated with participating in such activities.

Are there any restrictions on advertising gambling services in the UK?

Yes, there are restrictions on advertising gambling services in the UK. Advertisements must be socially responsible, not target vulnerable individuals, and must not encourage excessive gambling. Additionally, there are restrictions on advertising gambling services on television before the 9 pm watershed.

Preston Davis is a gambling writer based in London. He's always on the lookout for new Online casinos, bonuses, and games to write about - so you can be sure he's on top of any news as soon as it breaks. Preston takes his work seriously but likes to have fun too - which is why he thoroughly tests everything he reviews before giving his final verdict. Preston enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children when he's not writing or playing games.