The United Kingdom is said to be the largest gambling market in Europe, and similarly, the Gambling Commission (commonly referred to as the ‘UKGC’), has well over 300 staff, making it also by far the largest gambling regulator in Europe by employment.
The name ‘UKGC’ is actually a misnomer, since the remit of the Gambling Commission does not cover the entirety of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland falls outside of the remit of the Gambling Commission, and therefore the correct term is the Gambling Commission of Great Britain, encompassing England, Scotland and Wales.
The UKGC was established under the Gambling Act of 2005 to regulate individuals and businesses providing gambling in Great Britain. Licensing was available for most types of gambling in terms of the Gambling Act of 2005, and companies and individuals could apply for licences with the UKGC.
A major change to the manner in which online gambling was regulated in Great Britain took place in 2015, with the enactment of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill, which would require all overseas-based gambling companies offering gambling services to British consumers to acquire a licence from the UKGC, and to abide by the rules of the same authority – this was termed ‘point of consumption regulation’, and followed similar laws already implemented in France, Italy and Denmark amongst other jurisdictions.
Prior to 2015, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport maintained a ‘Whitelist’ of jurisdictions from where operators which had proven that they met the requirements set in the Gambling Act could advertise to British customers. This list included all EU/EEA countries, Alderney, Isle of Man, Antigua & Barbuda, Gibraltar and Tasmania. The largest UK operators were mostly licensed and operated out of Gibraltar, Isle of Man or Malta prior to entry into force of the point of consumption regulation.
Since then, the UKGC has proven to be one of the strictest and harshest regulators in Europe, often issuing very large penalties to operators which it deems to have breached the law.
Apart from the UKGC, operators in the UK market are also required to abide by the requirements of other regulators, including the Advertising Standards Authority, which imposes standards around advertising, including advertising in gambling, as well as the National Crime Agency, which is the Financial Intelligence Unit in the UK. Taxes are paid to a separate entity, HM Revenue & Customs.
All gambling activities which are either offered to UK customers, or which are operated from the UK are required to be licensed and regulated by the UKGC. Online games that are licensable includes:
- Casino, including slots;
- Live Casino;
- Betting Exchange;
- Horse-race betting;
- Esports betting;
- Lotteries (subject to restrictions, since this is a monopoly in the UK)
The UKGC also licenses business-to-business (B2B) operators as well as software suppliers.
The UKGC is a point of consumption regulator, and therefore it’s remit is to protect consumers in Great Britain only. However, there is no outright prohibition for non-UK residents to play on UKGC regulated websites, however previous media reports suggested that the UKGC would only accept a small percentage of the playerbase being from markets outside the UK. Where there is more than a minimal exposure to a market other than the UK market, the UKGC may expect operators to show proof of licensing in such other jurisdictions.
The UKGC is not a ring-fenced market, and player liquidity is allowed with other jurisdictions, and this is particularly beneficial for operators offering peer-to-peer gambling such as betting exchange or a poker platform.
According to the UKGC’s Annual Report 2020 to 2021, there are currently 696 active remote licensees. It is understood that one operator may have multiple licenses issued by the Gambling Commission, in order to cover all its activities.
The British gambling industry generated gross gambling yield of £14.2 billion between April 2020 and March 2021. 22.1 million adults gambled in 2020, of which 12.1 million gambled online, with 50% of online gamblers using mobile.
A list of all operators licensed by the Gambling Commission can be accessed here.
The Gambling Commission is known to be one of the strictest and harshest gambling regulators in the world. It is often criticised as being ‘inquisitorial’ in nature. Legal requirements are drafted loosely and widely within legislation, for the UKGC to interpret them very narrowly and strictly during audits conducted. This has resulted in numerous very large fines issued to operators normally deemed to be reputable in most other jurisdictions.
The UKGC is also viewed as one of the strongest regulators in terms of its capacity to detect suspicious transactions involving fixed sporting events.
As public perception of gambling worsens in the UK, the UKGC has seemingly become stricter, and therefore players should expect operators to impose strict deposit limits, to intervene when players seem to gamble too much, beyond their means, or even at odd hours. Operators will also regularly ask for information from players on players’ source of wealth, funds, employment and other information required for the operator to comply with its Safer Gambling and Anti-Money Laundering obligations.
Fines issued to operators include the following:
- A £9.4 million fine to 888 due to social responsibility and money laundering failures;
- A licence suspension and a £3.8 million fine to Genesis Global due to social responsibility and money laundering failures;
- A £7.1 million penalty to Daub Alderney;
- A £5.85 million penalty to Casumo;
- Media reports which have reviewed an Independent Review of the situation, have partially blamed the UKGC for the repercussions from the failure of Football Index, which saw £124 million in open bets by customers lost. The UKGC seemingly did not discover a change in the operator’s business model, did not understand the business model, and did not take further regulatory action once the business grew, as did the complaints.