It has been legal to offer online casino games to players in the UK since 2005 when the Gambling Act first came into force but online casino operators and game providers must first receive a licence from the Gambling Commission in order to accept UK players - read this guide to online casino regulation to learn more.
This is to ensure that operators and game providers are meeting the highest possible standards when it comes to safety and security, fairness, anti-money laundering and fraud, know your customer and, most importantly, responsible gambling and player protection.
This means opening up their businesses, their online casinos, their platforms and their games to incredible scrutiny and prolonged testing. If an operator or supplier does not meet the standards required, they will not be granted a licence by the Gambling Commission.
This is to make sure that the online casinos that are available to UK players are reputable and honest and are doing everything they can to look after the players they welcome through their digital doors.
In addition to the UK Gambling Commission, there are other licensing authorities and regulatory bodies that ensure online gambling operators are playing by the rules. This includes the likes of the Malta Gaming Authority and the Advertising Standards Authority.
In this comprehensive guide you will find everything you need to know about regulation and licensing and the very important role these organisations play in ensuring you are properly protected when playing at a UK-licensed online casino site.
First up, let’s take a look at the law that makes online gambling legal in the UK.
THE GAMBLING ACT 2005:
The Gambling Act 2005 was a break-through moment for gambling and online casino in the UK. It made key amendments to existing legislation to properly regulate and license online gambling for the first time and to ensure that players were properly protected.
Prior to the Act coming into force, the Gambling Board was responsible for overseeing the UK’s gambling industry but with a focus on land-based casinos, betting shops, bingo halls and lottery retailers and not so much online.
The Act also established the Gambling Commission, an independent, non-departmental public body (that just means it is not part of the government and works at arms-length from politicians) which took full control from the Gambling Board in 2007.
In 2014, The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act brought in additional measures that required all operators based outside of the UK that transact with, or market to, UK players to obtain a licence from the UK Gambling Commission. It also required them to pay a 15% point of consumption tax.
Indeed, taxes from gambling companies based in the UK and overseas are a major revenue generator for the UK government and economy. To give you an idea of just how big the industry is, in 2018 UK-facing online casino sites generated a gross gaming yield of £4.9 billion.
Next, let’s take a look at the organisation responsible for overseeing all gambling activity across Great Britain, the Gambling Commission.
THE UK GAMBLING COMMISSION:
The UK Gambling Commission is responsible for regulating all commercial gambling in the UK, including the National Lottery. It does this in partnership with other licensing authorities (more on these a little further down).
THE COMMISSION’S MAIN OBJECTIVES ARE TO:
- Prevent gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder, or being used to support crime
- Ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way
- Protect children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling
To meet these objectives, the regulator sets out its standards in a document called Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice. It’s pretty lengthy, but you can read it here. It then undertakes assessments to make sure that operators, suppliers and individuals are fully compliant.
With 2,800+ licensees in the UK, this is a massive undertaking which is why the UKGC employs some 300 people at its headquarters in Birmingham. This mighty workforce is overseen by chief executive Neil McArthur who was appointed in April 2018 having first joined the regulator back in 2006.
As you would expect, the cost of running such a sizable organisation is high but the UKGC is funded through the fees paid by the operators, suppliers and individuals to obtain a licence, plus a grant from the National Lottery Distribution Fund.
Licence application fees for online gambling operators range from £2,640 to £57,304 with an annual renewal fee from £2,709 to £512,083+. That adds up quickly – in 2018, licence fees for both online and offline gambling amounted to £19.9 million.
WHAT HAPPENS IF A LICENSEE DISPLAYS NON-COMPLIANT BEHAVIOUR?
The Gambling Commission’s team of compliance officers investigate all licensees thoroughly, and it is not uncommon for them to uncover areas of non-compliance from time to time. These can be minor issues like processing data incorrectly or more serious failings like marketing to self-excluded players.
In most cases, the Commission will notify the operator, supplier or individual of the non-compliance issue and allow them to address it. More often than not, the licensee will remedy the issue promptly but if they don’t, or the issue is significant in the first place, it will take enforcement action.
This can result in anything from multi-million-pound fines to operators, suppliers and individuals being stripped of their licences.
It is worth reiterating that all online casino sites that market to, and transact with, UK players must hold an active licence from the UK Gambling Commission. If they don’t, they are operating illegally and you must not open an account, deposit or wager with these brands.
THIS IS HOW TO BE SURE AN ONLINE CASINO HOLDS A UK LICENCE:
- A UK-licensed online casino must display the Gambling Commission logo on the footer of its homepage, whether on desktop or mobile
- Click on the logo and it will take you directly to the operator’s licence on the UK Gambling Commission’s public registry
- Check that the licence is “active”
Alternatively, only play through casinos that have been reviewed and recommended by Find My Casino as we check licence details as part of our thorough testing process.
In addition to holding a UK Gambling Commission licence, some online casino operators also carry permits from other regulators, also known as licensing authorities. These are jurisdictions outside of the UK that carry out a similar role to the UKGC.
In most cases, operators hold permits from licensing authorities to market to, and transact with, players in other countries around the world. They are not a requirement for operating in the UK, but when combined with a UKGC licence show the online casino meets the highest possible standards.
Licensing authorities are located all over the world, but the most established and trusted are:
Malta Gaming Authority – is one of the most respected regulators in Europe and beyond and licenses all forms of betting in Malta, including online gambling and online casino. It licences both operators and suppliers, including the likes of LeoVegas and Mr Green.
Gibraltar Gambling Commission – is responsible for regulating land-based and online gambling in Gibraltar. This includes more than 30 of the most popular online casino brands such as 888casino, 32Red and PartyCasino.
Isle of Man Gambling Supervision Commission – has been regulating land-based and online gambling for more than 60 years now. It is a highly innovative regulator and recently became the first to license a blockchain lottery operator.
Alderney Gambling Control Commission – is a popular licensing jurisdiction among game developers with the likes of NetEnt, Play’n GO and Playtech all holding permits from the regulator. Operator licensees include Aspers Casino.
Just remember that even if an online casino holds a permit from a licensing authority it must still hold a licence from the UK Gambling Commission in order to market to, and transact with, players in the UK. If it doesn’t, it is operating illegally and must be avoided.
Online casino brands must also adhere to rules and codes when it comes to the ways in which they market to players. This is overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority – more on them below.
THE ADVERTISING STANDARDS AUTHORITY:
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the self-regulatory body of the advertising industry in the UK. It is a non-statutory organisation, which means that it does not interpret or enforce laws around advertising, but it does keep the industry in check.
It does this via several advertising codes written by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), the ASA’s sister organisation. CAP members include advertisers, media owners and agencies and they work together to create the rules the wider industry must abide by.
It is the role of the ASA to ensure that adverts published across all formats, including press, radio, TV, social media, newsletter, email, posters, billboards, leaflets and even those on buses and in cinemas do not breach the CAP codes.
The ASA works across all industries and sectors, including online casino. In fact, most operators have broken advertising codes at some point, usually by running ads about bonuses with unfair terms and conditions or because they are likely to appeal to underage players.
WHEN INVESTIGATING A COMPLAINT THIS IS WHAT IT CONSIDERS:
- What harm or detriment has occurred or might occur
- Balance the risk of taking action verses inaction
- The likely impact of intervention
- What resource would be proportionate for the problem to be tackled
The ASA says that around 80% of complaints made do not require any further action but for those that do and are then found to breach advertising code, it can take the following actions:
- Request the advert be withdrawn
- Refer advertisers to Trading Standards and OFCOM which can impose fines and even revoke broadcasting licences
- CAP can alert its members and ask them to withhold services such as providing advert space
- Ask internet search providers to remove a marketer’s paid-for search advertising when those adverts link to a page that has breached code
- Publish the name and details of the company/marketing agency in its weekly bulletin
- Places adverts and messaging in search engine results
The majority of online casino brands that are found to have breached advertising code usually accept the ASA’s ruling and agree not to run the advert again and ensure that all future ads comply with the code. You can find the ASA’s latest rulings here.
If you would like to make a complaint about an online casino advert you have seen, you can do so from the ASA’s Make a Complaint page.
RECAPPING ONLINE CASINO REGULATION AND LICENSING:
As you can see, online casino brands have to meet a wide range of rules and requirements in order to be able to market to, and transact with, players in the UK. It doesn’t matter if the operator is based in the UK or elsewhere, they must play by the same rules.
The UK Gambling Commission is considered one of the best regulators in the world, and has played a vital role in ensuring thousands of people across the UK enjoy playing online casino games knowing the brands they are playing with are reputable and doing everything they can to protect them.
This, of course, means that you must only play at online casinos that hold an active UK Gambling Commission licence. The good news is that all of the online casinos we recommend do hold an active UK Gambling Commission licence, so by playing through Find My Casino you can be sure you are playing at the best UK online casinos.