Betting Law: Is Online Gambling Legal in the UK?
In the UK it is a criminal offence to commercially take bets or offer a betting exchange service if you do not have a Gambling Commission (GC) license. In this article we list our bookmakers license numbers, explain why gambling licences are needed, what they mean for operators, how bookmakers get these licences and what happened if they contravene the conditions of the commission. We also discuss gambling law including the latest Gambling Act 2014 and what this means for both the betting industry and the punter.
Gambling law in the United Kingdom provides some of the most stringent legislation and protections in the world. Gambling licences are in place to protect not only punters from unlicensed operators but also to protect bookmakers and betting operators.
UK Online Betting Sites Gambling Licence Numbers
Clicking on the licence numbers in the table will take you to that operator's specific gambling commission issued licence.
|Licence Malta, Location Curacao||43173||Read Review|
|Europort, Gibraltar||39028||Read Review|
|Santa Venera, Malta||39426||Read Review|
|Waterport Place, Gibraltar||39544||Read Review|
|Town Range, Gibraltar||39576||Read Review|
|Gzira, Malta||39372||Read Review|
|Ta' Xbiex Seafront, Malta||39286||Read Review|
|Licenced and Located in Gibraltar||39071||Read Review|
|Based Gibraltar, Licence London, UK||1611||Read Review|
|Pieta, Malta||39170||Read Review|
|St. Venera, Malta||39426||Read Review|
|Licenced from Zug in Switzerland||45143||Read Review|
|Based St. John's, Antigua, Licence Isle of Man||39123||Read Review|
|Registered Under Platinum Gaming Limited, Gibraltar||45322||Read Review|
|St Sampson, Guernsey||39144||Read Review|
|Watersport place, Gibraltar||39225||Read Review|
|Licence Isle of Man, Registered St. John's, Antigua||39123||Read Review|
Is Gambling Online Legal in Great Britain
The simple answer is yes but only under licence. It may surprise many that up until 2005 the industry was unregulated online and until 2014 operators based outside the UK didn't have to have a UK licence. If you gamble with an agent that does not possess a licence they are operating illegally and you risk losing your funds.
What is a Gambling Licence
This is a licence that all gambling providers who are based in or operate in the UK are required to have. This came in to force under the Gambling Act of 2005 and stipulates that anyone wishing to commercially advertise to or transact with customers for the purposes of gambling must carry a licence.
To apply for a licence companies are required to demonstrate they have several protections in place for the prevention of crime and protection of customers.
The Gambling Commission was set up to issue and administer licences. You can check if an operator has a licence by visiting their site. Operators must also display their licence details properly on their website or premises. You will either see a reference for the licence or the full licence number, either can be searched on the commission's website. In the table above we list all the licence numbers for bookmakers reviewed on our site. Clicking the number will take you to their individual licence.
Often licences are held by holding companies that then operate several branded gambling entities. Every bookmaker listed on this site have a full UK gambling licence, details of which can be found in the table or in our betting site reviews.
It is quite amazing in a way to think that internet gambling went unregulated until 2005 and in many countries it still is. This is why betting in the UK betting and gaming industry is now one of the safest in the world.
Who Are The Gambling Commission
The Gambling Commission was originally set up in 2005 under the previous gambling Act. The body is an independent non-departmental public body that receives funding and support from the UK governments department for culture, media and sport. The commission acts as regulator for all commercial gambling operators including bingo, bookmakers, casinos, gaming arcades, etc. The commission is also responsible for regulating lotteries in the UK including the National Lottery since taking over the responsibilities of the National Lottery Commission in 2013.
The commission employ over 250 people, are based in Birmingham and are largely funded by licence fees paid by bookmakers and other operators. The gambling commission do not cover spread betting and other forms of index betting, this falls under the jurisdiction of the financial conduct authority (FCA).
What Do the Gambling Commission Do?
The GC have some principal objectives:
- Crime Prevention – This is both in terms of preventing illegal bookmaking (protecting the punter) and betting fraud from punters (protecting the bookie).
- Promote and Open Industry – This includes promoting honesty about betting operations and gambling including responsible gambling. For example offers, terms and bonuses need to clear and transparent without conflicting or false language.
- Protect Venerable People – Possibly the most important aim of the commission ensure children under the age of 18 and vulnerable people are prevented from gambling. This includes age and identity checking and monitoring. See responsible gambling.
What Don't the Gambling Commission Do?
The commission is there is ensure a safe and responsible industry they will not:
- Mediate Customer Complaints – Operators must have their own systems in place to properly handle complaints. If you want to escalate a complaint you can use the Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS) service. Read our IBAS article.
- Legal Advice – They will not give advice but they will give general information about the Gambling Act.
- Check Every Gambling Website – Whilst it is the law that operators need to possess a licence to operate in the UK it is up to you to check there is a licence in place before you gamble.
How Do The Gambling Commission Regulate?
The commission is limited in its scope and resources so they will always attempt to mediate disputes and will only take legal action in cases that present the greatest risks to the licensing objectives.
If operators fail to comply with the Licence conditions and codes of practice (LCCP) then the commission will step in. If you feel you know of an operator who are not meeting the LCCP you can report them anonymously to the commission.
In rare events where illegal activity is serious enough the GC has the power to revoke licences and issue legal action against operators. All major legal action and information is published on their website.
In general the GC are seen as a body that are trying to work with bookmakers and other gambling agents to ensure a safe industry rather than being an enforcement agency.
Gambling Law in the UK
There are specific laws on all aspects of commercial gambling from prizes and games run in public houses to gaming machines, remote operators and fees and duty charges. For a full list of all gambling legislation see the commissions gambling related legislation page.
Gambling Act 2005 and 2014
The act of 2005 was brought in to give the UK government greater means of regulating a diverse gambling industry. This was the first major piece of legislation since the Betting and Gaming Act 1960. In fact it legislated the creation of the Gambling Commission in concert to enforce and regulate its contents.
The country had reached a point where gaming needed renewed legislation with the new millennium seeing a glut of new ways to gamble from fixed odds terminals in shops, new lottery games and more advanced gaming arcades. The act was also brought in to also regulate online betting for the first time.
Basically the 2005 gambling act is designed to enforce the principal objectives of the gambling commission described above with specific legislation such as fee limits, payout limits etc., for individual aspects (such as how much a fruit machine in a pub can pay out).
The 2014 Gambling (Licencing and Advertising) Bill is effectively an add-on to the 2005 legislation. This is more encompassing and ensures all online gambling facilities in the UK fall under the law and the GC. This makes it easier to define what gambling is and whether a company and its advertisers are permitted to operate in Great Britain.
One important aspect of the 2014 act is to ensure that off shore operators are also required to have a UK gambling licence to advertise in the UK. As most online bookmakers are based in Gibraltar or Malta this was a critical piece of legislation. It also entitled the government to a 15% tax on gross profits earned in the UK.
History of Gambling Law
Gambling and betting through history has courted much attention. It has been banned or restricted several times by various monarchs and even Oliver Cromwell who banned most sports and betting with his puritan ways. In 1541 the Unlawful Games Act was enacted by the parliament of England and was designed to restrict several new games. The idea at the time was new games and sports were causing the death of archery as young adolescents became distracted by newer ventures.
The 1541 act didn't necessarily restrict gambling but did so by proxy in banning sports and games. It took however until 1845 for the British establishment to issue binding legislation on gambling in the Gaming Act of 1845.
The gaming act was actually designed to discourage betting. It made a bet unenforceable as a contract under law and therefore an illegal action. Basically meaning if you bet it is illegal under law and you do so at your own risk meaining someone could walk off with your cash. This wasn't actually rescinded until 2001 and needless to say it didn't really stop people gambling.
The 1892 Gaming Act created an exception for the Totalisator (tote) board. This allowed on track betting at race courses in Great Britain but betting and gambling off course was still illegal up until 1960 (with the exception of the football pools) The 1960 Act saw the final repeal of the 1845 gaming act.
Up until 1960 it was however legal to place bets by post or over the telephone. Many bookmakers got around this by employing 'runners' that would take bets from a public phone to the bookmaker. Mr William Hill is a famous early bookie who did what he could to circumvent these laws.
The Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 famously removed the restriction on offsite betting and led to the opening of the first betting shops in 1961. Many cite this as the beginning of the end for greyhound racing and some smaller horse racing meetings in particular.
This worked well enough until the end of the 20th Century, however new forms of betting such as gaming machines and critically the internet meant that new legislation was needed. This was seen in the form of the 2005 Act and 2014 Bill.
Customer Complaints & Protection
The objectives of the the UK government, the gambling commission and bookmakers is to generally protect customers by creating a safe, fair and open environment. The gambling commission will not however mediate individual customer complaints over disputed funds. You can however report gambling operators (either online or physical) if you think they are contravening the gambling code and putting people at risk.
For information on IBAS, the body that mediates disputes between bookmakers and customers read our IBAS article.
A core objective of the GC is to ensure all operators actively promote responsible gambling. See our article for all features and information relating to responsible gambling.