Gambling Laws In The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is an inclusive country when it comes to both brick-and-mortar and online gambling. Residents can access multiple domestic and offshore entities for casino gambling, poker and sports betting. Our team of legal gambling analysts developed this page as a hub for legitimate and up-to-date information regarding the legal framework of gambling in the United Kingdom. You will find coverage on the multiple laws and their effect on the market, the regulatory agencies working behind the scenes, a history of legal gambling in the UK, specifically England. While the United Kingdom encompasses Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, those countries and regions have their own individual laws and regulations pertaining to the gambling market and those can be found using our global gambling laws directory found on our global gaming laws homepage.
Gambling Laws In Great Britain
The Gambling Act 2005 – The Gambling Act 2005 is the standard benchmark for legal gambling in the United Kingdom. As the premier gambling law, it dictates the protocols for casinos, poker, sports betting, pools, lottery betting, etc. The GA 2005 also established the frameworks for licensing and regulation. The UK Gambling Commission was born out of this law and continues to administer regulatory control to this day.
The GA 2005 was written to reform the prior legislation that divvied out regulatory responsibilities to several different governmental bodies. British gambling laws, or “law” in this case, echo the standard set by multiple other countries in that there is one presiding statute. The GA 2005 includes provisions for social games and skill games. One of the most important aspects of the legislation is that it clarified certain definitions to keep up with modern technology. The effects of this helped keep casinos and other gambling operators in check with new technologies. You can find more detailed information on our Gambling Act 2005 page.
Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 – The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 was passed to curtail licensing loopholes being taken advantage of by offshore operators. Before this act, remote operators were only required to obtain an English licence if they had at least one piece of remote gambling equipment located within UK borders. Any remote gambling operators that kept all their equipment, facilities, etc. offshore were exempt from applying for a licence. This meant that they were outside the regulatory hold of the U.K. Gambling Commission.
From November 2014 onwards, all remote gambling operators must possess a licence from the UK Gambling Commission if they are servicing residents, regardless of whether they have physical equipment located in the country or not. The Act also mandated that operators must pay 15% of their profits obtained from UK customers back as part of their licensing agreement. As per the name of the act, a UKGC licence grants the operator advertising access to UK consumers. It is considered unlawful for any gambling operator to advertise if they are not in possession of a proper licence. You can find more information on our Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 page.
The National Lottery Act – The National Lottery Act was first passed in 1993 but has been amended since. In the United Kingdom, lotteries are primarily held to raise capital for causes beneficial to society, not for personal gain or commercialism. The National Lottery is regulated by the UK Gambling Commission, but there are different legislative components applicable to licensing. It is also possible for smaller lotteries to be held without a licence, but these still require registration with the local authority in place. There are guidelines for rules that all lotteries must follow, regardless of their scale. Our National Lottery Act page has more information on how the legal lottery system works in Great Britain.
Is Gambling Legal In The UK?
Yes. It is legal for U.K. citizens to gamble in conjunction with British law. With both domestic and offshore options available, UK residents have more access than most. We break down the specifics of the gambling laws in the section below, but before getting into all of the individual legal components, the answer is yes—gambling is indeed legal in the United Kingdom.
Who Regulates Gambling In The UK?
All regulation is coordinated through the UK Gambling Commission. The regulatory body was established in 2005 following the passing of the Gambling Act. The UKGC’s purpose is to regulate all commercial gambling enterprises in the UK in conjunction with the proper licensing authorities. They also regulate the National Lottery per the National Lottery Act 1993. The agency is sponsored by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Our UK Gambling Commission page has lots of information regarding how the organisation works, what they don’t cover in their enforcement scope, consumer protections and much more.
The Financial Conduct Authority is tasked with regulating spread betting. It Is the only form of sports betting not regulated by the UKGC. The FCA’s main focus is creating a fair play environment within the UK financial markets. They work to vet spread betting brokers for proper and legitimate business ethics. A broker that is vouched for by the FCA carries more weight than one lacking any sort of support. Our Financial Conduct Authority page has more information.
What Is The Minimum Gambling Age In The U.K.?
Generally, the minimum gambling age in England is 18, however, the minimum age to purchase a National Lottery ticket is sixteen. To enter and gamble at a casino or horse racetrack participants must be at least eighteen. The same minimum age equates to arcade gambling as well.
Forms Of Legal Gambling In The UK
There are many different legal UK gambling options for residents to partake in. According to the Gambling Act 2005, gambling is defined as “betting, gaming or participating in a lottery.” The UKGC has broken down gaming into multiple sectors in order to expedite their licensing procedures. These sectors include arcades, betting (includes online), bingo (includes online), casino (includes online), lotteries, and gaming machines. Each sector can be broken down into terms of what each represents, the brick-and-mortar options therein, legal gambling ages, etc. You can find a detailed explanation of each sector below.
Arcades – Arcades can be broken down into 3 distinct categories—Adult Gaming Centres (AGCs), Licensed Family Entertainment Centres (FECs) and Unlicensed Family Entertainment Centres (UFECs). The first 2 types require a licence from the UKGC. UFECs must possess a permit from the presiding local licensing authority. Arcades feature varied gaming machine types, each of which falls into a different category. As far as legal age requirements go, no one under the age of 18 is permitted inside an AGC or the section of an FEC specified for adults.
Betting – Betting in the UK comes in the forms of fixed odds betting, pool betting, acting as a betting intermediary and spread betting. Fixed odds betting is the most common type of betting on the market. For example, betting £10 at 2/1 odds would return £30. Pool betting is different in that there are more individual wagers in play. A winning payout is determined by dividing the total pool by the number of winning tickets (there may also be a commission fee from the host). Pool betting is most commonly associated with racecourses, football and other sports and fantasy football. Betting intermediaries are simply middlemen between multiple parties. These entities are not liable for bets placed, but do often take commission. No one under the age of 18 is allowed to place a bet with a licenced operator.
Bingo – Bingo exists in a grey area in the UK. In most instances, bingo requires a licence from the UKGC. It can also be run as a prize game (meaning there is no need for a licence). While bingo is considered more of a game of leisure and chance, it is still popular amongst online gamblers.
Casinos – There are multiple brick-and-mortar casino establishments in the United Kingdom offering varied games like baccarat, blackjack, poker and more. Licensing credentials are strict regarding small versus large venue distinctions, how many gaming machines can be present and more. Small casinos may only be run in the following local licensing authorities (and only one per area):
- Bath and North East Somerset District Council
- East Lindsey District Council
- Luton Borough Council
- Scarborough Borough Council
- Swansea City and County Council
- Torbay Borough Council
- Wigtown Divisional Licensing Board in the area of Dumfries and Galloway Council
- Wolverhampton City Council
The following local licensing authorities are permitted to have large brick-and-mortar casino locations. These areas may only have one casino.
- Great Yarmouth Borough Council
- Kingston upon Hull City Council
- Leeds City Council
- Middlesbrough Borough Council
- Milton Keynes Borough Council
- Newham London Borough Council
- Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council
- Southampton City Council
No one under the age of 18 is allowed entry into a brick-and-mortar casino.
Lotteries – There are multiple lotteries in the United Kingdom. Lotteries are centered on good causes as opposed to commercial or personal gains. There is the National Lottery and smaller lotteries promoted within local authorities. The legal age for lottery is different than other gambling forms. The minimum age requirement for the National Lottery is 16 years old.
Gaming Machines – The GA 2005 defines gaming machines as a machine designed for use by individuals to gamble. In most cases, this definition applies to slots, otherwise known as fruit or jackpot machines. There are multiple categories for gaming machines based on the maximum prize available. These categories include A, B1, B2, B3, B3A, B4, C and D.
Forms Of Legal Online Gambling In The UK
Online gambling, also known as remote gambling, is considered legal in Great Britain if the operator possesses a licence from the UKGC. The legal U.K. gambling forms include but are not limited to the following venues online casinos with slots, table games, etc., online poker, online sports betting, lottery-style games, and online Bingo.
Online casinos often offer live dealer games and online sportsbooks that are UK friendly almost always provide in-play betting options, all of which is entirely legal in England. If there are online operators servicing British residents without a proper licence from the UKGC, they are considered to be engaging in illegal activity. The UKGC can take action against the operator and payments to and from the site may be withdrawn, suspended or completely shut down. The UKGC does not go after individuals who are participating in illegal online gambling.
A Brief History Of Gambling In The United Kingdom
The history of gambling in the UK can be broken down into class warfare. Its heyday was in the Industrial Revolution era and came through horse race betting and small-time games played in local pubs. The government seemed to tolerate betting amongst the upper echelon of citizens while enforcing the lower class. There were multiple betting fraud cases in the early 1800s that left a negative taste in people’s mouths. Not to mention lottery scams and propaganda on how gambling is an immoral act (this played on the religious community).
Parliament issued the Gaming Act of 1845 and Betting Act of 1853, both of which effectively ceased all commercial gambling. However, on-course betting was permitted at horse tracks, but only the upper class could partake. Poorer citizens conducted street gambling, and while this was illegal, enforcement was difficult to administer. Eventually, these laws were repealed and the country embraced legal gambling.
An Emphasis On Social Responsibility
One of the biggest concerns of the UKGC is gambling addiction. There are tons of advertisements for gambling addiction services and operators must have some sort of link or advert on getting help with gambling addiction on their sites as part of their licensing agreement.
A recent example of how much the UK takes this seriously can be seen with SkyBet, one of the largest online betting providers in the country. SkyBet was fined £1 million for failing to maintain their self-exclusion policy. Self-exclusion helps problem gamblers and allows them to request gambling operators to deny them service.
SkyBet failed these consumers on several fronts, including allowing those who asked for self-exclusion to access sites with duplicate accounts, sending marketing materials to those who asked to be removed from the site and failing to payout customers once they requested self-exclusion. £1 million is a hefty fine, but it is more of a statement to operators out there and showcases how serious the UKGC is about protecting consumers from problem gambling.
Help With Gambling Addiction In The UK