Online Gambling in the United Kingdom

by James Carter on February 19th, 2015.

The art of gambling has a long history throughout the United Kingdom, and it's not difficult to imagine a couple of minor noblemen betting on the outcome of a joust during the Middle Ages. That tradition of wagering on competitive events has stretched into the modern age, although the men on horseback have been replaced by finely tuned athletes from a variety of sports.

This article will provide you with an overview of the legalities of online gambling in the United Kingdom, highlight the best playing options for locals as well as explain various deposit options available to Internet putters, among other information.

What you'll find on this page:

  • Top-ranked UK gambling sites.
  • Is it legal to gamble online?
  • Types of gambling in the UK.
  • Most popular gambling games in the UK.
  • Largest UK casinos.

Playing at UK online gambling sites could be the most popular form of gambling in the UK. As long as you're 18 or over, you're allowed to gamble online.

According to a January 2014 report by The Guardian, playing at UK online casinos is the most popular form of gambling along with in-person virtual dog or horse races for those UK gamblers who play 2+ times a week. Other forms of online gambling, such as online bingo, online spread betting and online slot machine-type games (I don't know what the difference between these and "casino games" is) are among the most popular games as well.

The UK is a much more pro-online gambling country than the US or Canada. Not only are online gambling sites based in the UK allowed to offer online casino games to UK citizens, but offshore online casinos are allowed to so as well as long as they're licensed in a jurisdiction that's been white-listed by the UK Gambling Commission.

The UK Gambling Commission regulates all online gambling in the UK except for spread betting, which is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

For an online gambler, the UK is an ideal place because of the availability (and legality!) of so many gambling sites and the fact that you're required to pay zero taxes for gambling winnings. (As far as I know - I recommend that you double-check your local tax laws.)

Deposit Options

Due to the expanded gambling laws in the new millennium, betting with an online UK sportsbook is a simple matter. The same goes for making a deposit, as almost all forms of payment are now accepted.

Some banks remain squeamish about gambling in general, so brands such as American Express and Diner's Club can't be relied upon. That still leaves plenty of options, however. For example, take a look at the payment methods accepted by Ladbrokes, one of the leading UK sportsbooks:

  • Visa
  • Mastercard
  • Visa Electron
  • Maestro
  • Laser
  • Neteller
  • Western Union
  • Bank Transfer
  • Ukash
  • PayPal
  • Paysafe
  • Moneybookers

Is Online Gambling Legal in the UK?

It is legal for citizens of England, Scotland, and Wales to place bets online provided they follow two restrictions put in place by the UK Gambling Commission. First, the Gambling Act set a minimum age of 18 for online betting. Penalties exist in both local and national penal codes for underage gambling.

Second, citizens must be sure they're placing wagers at sites that maintain a special remote gambling license. The government of the United Kingdom currently accepts licensure from a number of jurisdictions around the world as equivalent to licensure from their own government, though lawmakers are considering a change. The law may soon require that all online casinos operating in the UK be licensed by the Gambling Commission itself.

A final consideration of the Gambling Act of 2005 was meant to have an impact on problem gambling. The law stated that the gaming industry must act responsibly on the issue of addiction and gaming, requiring groups that offer online gambling, lottery games, and other contests of chance and skill to contribute. Annually, the British gaming industry contributes £3 million to programs that combat gambling addiction.

UK Gaming Laws in General

From the 19th century through the year 2001, bets in the United Kingdom were discouraged (but not entirely outlawed) by the government. In fact, betting is a part of UK culture. What the old laws did was to declare that wagers did not represent "enforceable" legal contracts. That changed in 2002 after Parliament conducted studies into the positive impact of the gaming industry on the economy of the United Kingdom. Changing this traditional UK approach to bets as unenforceable contracts was instrumental in other major changes, like the Gambling Act of 2005.

After the passage of the Gambling Act, all gaming regulation and enforcement in the United Kingdom fell under the jurisdiction of the UK Gambling Commission. That same act of Parliament made many other significant changes to gaming laws in the United Kingdom. These new laws apply to all of England, Scotland, and Wales. Parliament passed these sweeping changes in 2005 in order to "control" every type of gambling on United Kingdom soil.

The laws transferred the ability to license gaming from a national court system to local government entities and a few different licensing boards. This Act of Parliament also regulated Internet betting for the first time in UK history. Other facets of the bill include changes to the regulations regarding certain luck-based contests (specifically commercial giveaways and game show prizes) as well as new definitions and laws regarding lottery games.

To the everyday bettor in England or Scotland, the only truly important feature of the 2005 Act was the regulation of the online gambling market.

Which Forms of Gambling Are Legal in the UK?

The United Kingdom has had several legal forms of gambling for a long time, namely horse-racing, bingo, sports betting and casino-type gambling in clubs. Gambling in the UK has since expanded to include lottery (in fact, their lottery is one of the biggest in the world) and real casinos. "Club casinos" are authorized by the Gaming Board of the Great Britain, while the United Kingdom Gambling Commission authorizes "real casinos" (larger casino enviroments) as per the Gaming Act of 2005.

Casino-type UK gambling was born not out of the necessity to create more revenue (which has been the common reason in many countries and jurisdictions) but out of public demand. You could only set-up a casino if you could prove a large demand for legal gambling in your area.

The UK started slowly, allowing only limited forms of gambling while also dictating the amount of games a casino can offer and the way casinos operate their business. For example, casinos were allowed to have the maximum of two slot machines per casino, players had to register for the slot machine 48 hours in advance and casinos weren't allowed to advertise.

Nowadays, there are 145 gambling enviroments in the UK with about 85% of them being in England and the rest in Scotland and Wales. Compared to Las Vegas or Macau, even the biggest casinos in the UK are small (more about that lower on this page).

Since the UK lies both geographically and culturally between Europe and America, it only makes sense that the United Kingdom's taste for gambling lies somewhere on the spectrum between the United States and continental Europe. The legality of certain types of betting in pubs is a unique feature of gaming law in the UK. A larger than normal variety of lottery games is another feature that sets this jurisdiction apart from its neighbors.

Fixed-odd betting terminals (FOBT) have been a major topic of discussion in the UK lately. There are now over 33,000 of those across England and Wales and problem gambling is becoming, well, a problem. As it has always been, the UK's stance towards FOBTs is "public first, revenue second" and they're looking for ways to limit problem gambling in ways such as allowing you to be a certain amount of money in a certain period of time or having the machine alert you when you've either lost a certain amount of money or played a certain amount of time.

Gambling Types and Popular Games

Housie - Bingo has been available in a legal form since 1960. At that time, bingo halls were meant to be members-only social clubs and were heavily restricted by regulations, including limits on prizes. Legislation over the years has changed so that commercial bingo parlours are a common sight across the United Kingdom.

Sports Betting - Horse races, greyhound races, and football matches are the most popular sports wagered on in the UK. Betting on sports is a British tradition, as germane to the region as warm beer and the Union Jack. Off-course wagering has been legal in the UK since 1960, and the popularity of sports wagering is such that kiosks and storefront betting shops can be found on every corner in urban areas. Some sports betting is allowed in everyday pubs and restaurants; more details on that in the Pub Bets section below.

Casino Gambling - The Gambling Act of 1968 allowed for the first properties remotely similar to commercial casinos across the UK. Though the Gambling Act of 2005 initially promised the creation of 8 mega-casinos in England, that idea was eventually snuffed out by the government. Casino gambling, in most forms, is legal in England, but the casinos themselves are on the small side. Popular table games include blackjack (and its English variant, Pontoon), roulette, and craps, though American-style games are quickly becoming the norm.

Lotteries - England, Scotland, and Wales have the largest variety of lottery games available of any country in the gambling market. One of the reasons is the historical use of such games to raise funds for causes and municipal improvements. Today, in London, a lottery customer can select from municipal and regional lottery games (some of which are illegal), the National Lottery and its many weekly draws, as well as smaller individual lottery systems that are set up to benefit different industries. The Health Lottery is particularly popular. The proceeds from the games go directly to improving the National Health system.

Online Gambling - Called "remote gaming" in the UK penal code, online gambling is a popular choice in the UK because it is regulated, legal, and readily-available.

Pub Bets - Pub culture is huge in the UK. As a result, even wagers placed in pubs are handled differently than other bets by the UK Gambling Commission. Provided that bettors are placing wagers only for themselves, customers at pubs are able to place bets on sporting events, within certain limits. Electronic machines are also legal in pub settings, again provided they only accept and pay out strictly-regulated amounts.

Social Gambling - The only explicit restriction placed on bettors in private events in the UK is that all players be competing at an equal footing. Essentially, this means the host can't take a rake or hold an advantage against participants. Provided this restriction is met, private bets are fully legal across the United Kingdom.

Popular Games

Fruit machines, also known as "slots" in other parts of the world, are by far the most popular betting choice in this region of the world. This is no surprise; these games are the easiest to play and designed to be addictive and fun.

Poker fever hit the United Kingdom within a few months of its explosion across the US market, to the point that poker rooms and electronic / table versions of the game are becoming more common in gambling venues across England and Wales.

Popular Betting Options

The importance of sports wagering to British culture can't be overstated - by some estimates, 6 out of every 10 British adults will place at least one wager on a sports event in a given year. In terms of the sheer number of wagers being placed, sports betting is a popular UK gamble. If you're thinking about placing a wager with an online sportsbook, here are some of the most popular options within the UK:

Soccer - When it comes to the popularity of sporting events in England and Scotland, nothing comes close to association football. Each nation within the UK organizes its own football league, and every four years players form a national team to compete for the World Cup. There always seem to be a football match underway in the UK, and there's almost always a sportsbook willing to take bets on it.

Rugby - Both Rugby league and Rugby union enjoy popularity throughout the UK, with the latter drawing larger crowds. The two biggest events are the Rugby League World Cup and Rugby World Cup, respectively.

Cricket - Even though England doesn't have a squad of its own (forming a joint team with Wales), cricket is still regarded as the national sport of the country. Ireland and Scotland also have teams, although they do not have test status like the English/Welsh squad. One of the biggest wagering opportunities comes when the rival Australian team plays England for The Ashes, a symbolic urn said to hold the remains of a burnt cricket ball.

Tennis - This sport originated in the UK in the 19th century, although its popularity has slowly waned. The annual Wimbledon Championship is still a major draw, however, and punters also love to wager on the international men's team event known as the Davis Cup.

Ice Hockey - The largest indoor spectator sport in Britain, residents of the UK love to wager on local games, as well as NHL contests. The biggest UK hockey league is the Elite League, which is comprised of 10 teams from Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, and Wales.

Field Hockey - The second most popular recreational team sport in the UK, field hockey still thrives in popularity despite a lack of television coverage and disputes about a national team for the Olympics.

Golf - The modern game of golf originated in Scotland, and England dominated play in the early part of the 20th century. While PGA and LPGA events draw large participation from punters, the biennial Ryder Cup competition is also a major wagering opportunity.

Largest UK Casinos

The UK is home to some 140 casinos - these range from tiny fruit machine parlours to some smaller full-fledged gaming floors with tables, VIP areas, and other trappings of the gaming industry. Here are three of the biggest and most successful casino venues in all of the United Kingdom.

Aspers Stratford in London is currently the only thing close to a super casino in England, Scotland, or Wales. The gaming floor itself is 65,000 square feet, making it as much as ten times larger than other gaming properties in London. Aspers operates 24 hours a day on the extreme Eastern edge of London, and is easily accessible by the Underground system. Fine dining, entertainment, and casino and poker tournaments make Aspers the closest thing to classic Vegas-style gaming Londoners have access to.

Another property by the same operator is likely the second-largest gaming floor and casino space in the United Kingdom. Aspers Newcastle, located in the far-northern section of England, boasts a gaming floor around 40,000 square feet and is home to a traditional casino and table games, an electronic game section, a poker room, and a section for sports and race betting. The combination of traditional games of chance and skill and several outlets for dining and entertainment make Aspers Newcastle one of the UK's best gaming venues in terms of variety.

Alea Casino Glasgow is Scotland's answer to the mega-casinos of the world. Described on its own website as a "Vegas-style casino," Alea is operated by Caesar's Entertainment and is designed to mimic the big Vegas Strip properties in America. Alea Casino has about the same amount of space as Aspers' properties in England, with game variations (for example, a focus on double-zero roulette) leaning more towards US-style gambling.