The UK Gambling Commission is an executive, governmental, non-departmental agency tasked with regulating all gambling activities and enforcing the gambling laws in the territory of the United Kingdom. As of recently, the Gambling Commission has started monitoring online betting websites. So to fully grasp the importance and influence of this regulatory agency, we’ve prepared this article, which aims to educate you on its history, policies, licences, plans and the impact they are making on the UK online betting scene.
Is Gambling Illegal in The UK?
Gambling constitutes a legal activity in the UK. Indeed, the UK was one of the first modern countries in the world that started regulating and controlling the gambling industry. It all began as early as the Middle Ages with the introduction of the Unlawful Games Act of 1541. The Act was announced by King James V, who got the idea after one of his servants fixed a game of tenys (a medieval version of today’s tennis) and fraudulently got rich.
The story of the UKGC continued in 1845 when the UK Parliament ratified the Gaming Act of 1845. Up until that point a bet or a wager was considered to be a willing contract between two gentlemen. As a contract, it could be subjected to court inspection. If one of them failed to comply with their betting obligations, the court would have to intervene and reimburse the injured party. However, the new law aimed to discourage gambling, as it was seen as an immoral activity that threatened the fabric of society.
Gambling in the UK wasn’t regulated until 2001, after a lengthy report by Sir Alan Budd on the dangers of illegal betting. Between 2002 and 2005, the British Parliament worked on new gambling law and the creation of a governmental body that would control gambling businesses.
Thus the Gambling Act of 2005 was born, and it aimed to encompass the regulation of all gambling activities: lottery, casinos, bingo, slots, arcades and betting. However, the Act does not include spread betting (all bets where the punter establishes conditions). The most significant result of the Act was the creation of the UK Gambling Commission in 2007. Although its inception didn’t go without any controversies, the Commision quickly established itself as the only authority on UK soil that deals with the control of the gambling industry.
Since there were still some remnants of the old laws, the Act presupposes a merge and a gradual centralisation of all UK betting regulatory bodies. The Commision started merging and acquiring the operations of other agencies. Today, the Commision deals with all gambling done on UK soil, including online betting. Notable agencies that are now a part of the Commission are the British Gaming Board and the National Lottery Commission.
As mentioned above, the Commission makes sure all the lottery, gambling and betting activities are done by the book. When it comes to gambling, they aim to fulfil three objectives:
- To prevent crime and disorder in gambling and to prevent its usage or association to crime or disorder;
- Making sure that gambling is done in a fair and transparent manner;
- To protect minors and other vulnerable individuals from being harmed or exploited by gambling.
When it comes to regulating the lottery, the UKGC states another three objectives:
- To ensure every lottery organised as a part of the National Lottery program is properly run;
- To protect the interests of all lottery participants;
- To do their best while enforcing the previous two objectives.
These mission statements, however, represent the general directions by which the Commission operates and guides its work. The Commission, in fact, has clear and concrete measures for enforcing the above-mentioned objectives.
The most important activity that the UK Gambling Commission undertakes is licencing newly opened and already existing gambling businesses. Apart from licencing, the board has the authority to revoke licences, levy fines and penalties and launch criminal investigations if there is reasonable suspicion of one. If you want to know more about the casinos that are currently in this process, you can check out their website. In there, you can find a list of approved gambling businesses and the ones whose licences are still pending approval.
As for the institutions eligible to receive a Gambling Commission licence, here’s a quick list: casinos, arcades, betting, bingo, gaming machines, lotteries, remote gambling (internet or phone) and gambling machines.
Apart from business, the Commission also takes care of licencing premises and responsible individuals who occupy an important position in the gambling business.
Before a business can get a licence, it has to adhere to certain conditions and codes of practice. These conditions are specific for each part of the industry, and you can find more info if you visit the dedicated licence page. In a nutshell, a gambling business has to have transparent offers and adhere to all UK Gambling Commission technical standards. After all the necessary terms are fulfilled, a business (or an individual, for that matter) can apply and wait for evaluation and licence issuing.
Standards and Enforcement
Obtaining a licence is not the end of the story. There has to be assurance that the business will adhere to the licencing regulations and good practices. Otherwise, the licence itself would be worthless. That’s why the Commission has a couple measures they can use if there’s reasonable doubt that something fishy is going on. After obtaining a UKGC licence, a gambling business becomes subject to the Commission’s regulatory policy.
The Commission’s regulations include
- Issuing a warning to a business that breaks regulations;
- Revoking the licence or amending the licence conditions;
- Suspending a licence;
- Issuing a financial penalty.
When it comes to betting sites, the Commission sets two kinds of standards: statutory and operating requirements. The statutory conditions are generally the same for all sectors of the gambling industry and mostly include acts intended for the protection of children and other vulnerable individuals, as well as the acts designed to reconcile the statute with the gambling laws of the UK.
The operating conditions are aimed at ensuring all the technical requirements are fulfilled before the opening. Some of them include
- Making sure that the software used is licenced;
- The segregation of customers’ funds into separate bank accounts;
- Tax regulation;
- Preventing money laundering and terrorist funding.
If the Commission suspects that a betting site may be involved in a fraudulent or criminal activity, they are authorised to work with the police and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
Not in Their Jurisdiction
Although one of the Commission’s primary tasks is protecting UK players and regulating the online gambling scene in the UK, there are some things that they can’t help you with. Namely, the Commission doesn’t deal in customer complaints. Since all the licenced betting sites already adhere to the specific customer-relation policies set by the Commission, players are left to pursue their issues with the site in question. In extreme cases, the Commission may reevaluate a licence held by an operator and see if everything is done by licence regulations, but that’s it.
Since it only deals with UK gaming sites, the Commission does not regulate betting sites that don’t operate on UK soil or don’t have the Commission’s licence. That means that you have to be very careful and cautious when registering and playing at foreign betting sites, because if you encounter any problems, the Commision can’t help.
The Commission, however, has a small guide on their website on how to recognise an unlicensed betting site:
- Check the Terms and Conditions;
- Check the conditions or the welcome promotion;
- When it comes to online gaming, the Commission issues a special seal or guarantee or a direct link to their website;
- Check if the licencing info from the website matches the one in the Commission’s public registry.
Quite recently, in 2016, the Commission issued a new set of rules for all betting sites that operate from other countries. These new regulations aim to prevent money laundering and terrorist funding. In a nutshell, the betting site has to perform a regular risk assessment check and adhere to the regulations pertaining to money transfers and payment methods. If you wish to know more, you can check the Gambling Commission website.
When we talk about the accomplishments of the Gambling Commission, it’s enough to take a look at their 2017–2018 statistics and see how much they accomplished in just one year. During that period, the Commission issued more than £18 million in fines. The highest penalty was issued to BGO Entertainment Unlimited for breaching the rules of marketing and advertising. They issued thirteen warnings, some with additional conditions. As for losing the licence, three individuals connected to the gambling business and the Royal Air Forces Association got their licences revoked. You can check out the gambling statistics for the UK page on their official website if you are interested in learning more.
Even if you look at the rest of the figures from their history, you’ll be pretty amazed.
In the first year of its operation, the Commission revoked the licences of two significant players in the industry: Bodugi and BetButler. They also contributed to the ratification of a Remote Gambling Act that was the first legislative document to deal with online and phone gambling.
The Commission seized 38 illegal gaming machines. The UK Gambling Commission also revoked licences and completed a criminal investigation against two private licence holders and one greyhound bookmaker.
The Commission issued fines exceeding £1 million in total worth, both to individual bookmakers, poker organisers and huge companies like Betfred, Camelot and Gala Coral. At the same time, they openly advocated for tackling the child gambling problem.
As of 2018, the Commission has issued 52,292 permits and licences for individuals and businesses across the UK. Out of all those permits, the UKGC was forced to suspend or revoke 5,274 of them for bad or fraudulent business practices. The Commission also undertook 4,917 inspections of various businesses and individuals.
As of recently, the Gambling Commission issued an ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) act approval. The act allows for a faster resolution on gamblers’ complaints by transferring its authority to third-party legal enforcers. That way, if you have a problem with a particular casino, you can take your case directly to a sort of private gambling ombudsman anywhere in the UK.
In 2018, the Commission issued its Strategy Report for 2018–2021. The report covers basic statistics on UK gambling. They list five objectives as their strategic imperatives for the following period:
- Protect the interests of consumers;
- Prevent harm to consumers and the public;
- Raise standards in the gambling market;
- Optimise returns to good causes from lotteries;
- Improve the way they regulate.
The document is more like a general guide than a set of concrete and precise actions that can be undertaken to indeed make the UK gambling industry a safer place for a regular punter.
The Commission is there to serve the interests of punters before everybody else. If you have any problems regarding their work, you can write a letter, and they will consider your complaint. You can also file an official complaint against a gambling business, but only if you have exhausted all other legal options. Even then the Commission can’t guarantee you a resolution given the new ADR act. If you wish to complain, you can send it to the Gambling Commission address: Gambling Commission, Victoria Square House, Victoria Square, Birmingham B2 4BP.
If you are a private bookmaker or a business representative looking for a licence, you can use the Gambling Commission’s website to inquire about licences and conditions. They offer a neat guide on how to know whether your business needs a licence and all the other documents you need to acquire. If you are still confused, need additional info or feel more confident with a live person by your side, you can call them on their dedicated Gambling Commission contact number: 0121 230 6666.
If you already have a licence, their website offers a great eService portal that lets you manage additional licencing protocols. You can use it to pay licencing fees, manage your account, get up-to-date on all the info on anti-money-laundering policies and submit various licence maintenance forms.
Since its inception, the Commission has accomplished a lot to help UK punters and gamblers feel safe. However, the latest statistics and research data shows that confidence in the industry is falling. Apart from that, the problem with child gambling still exists, and it just seems to be growing. Whether the UK Gambling Commission will be successful in tackling these issues remains to be seen.