The gambling industry today is very different than it was several years ago. It has undergone some major changes due to the fast growing world we live in. The technical advancement made it possible for various land-based casinos to have a web-based counterpart and this way reach players from all over the world. Long gone are the days when the only way to gamble was to go to a brick and mortar casino.
Presently, you can play a wide range of casino games at the most convenient time and place for you. You can enjoy roulette, blackjack, craps, video poker, baccarat and many other exciting games at the comfort of your home. What is more, if you are an avid player, you can even play on the move. However, ever since the online casinos have gained popularity, many players rose the inevitable question whether they are legal or not. Another highly discussed topic concerned their fairness and credibility.
Laws and Regulations
When it comes to online casinos and gambling regulations, it all comes down to the country you reside in. There is no universal gambling law that applies to every part of the world, despite the Internet being a global network. Whether it is legal to play at an online casino entirely depends on your current location. Some countries completely forbid gambling, whereas others impose partial restrictions on some activities related to real-money betting. In general, most of the gambling laws concern the online casinos rather than the players.
One thing that differs from one country to another is the legal status of online gambling which determines to a great extent the gambling market in the country. Generally speaking, online gambling can be considered either legal or illegal. However, it is also possible for a particular country to have some additional requirements or restrictions that revolve around this matter. If in one territory online gambling is declared legal, this means that all gambling activities are regulated and all online casinos must obtain licences to transact with local customers.
Some of the countries where the gambling market is regulated and all of the online casinos are required to possess a valid licence are the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, and Sweden. A bit different is the situation in countries where all gambling activities are declared illegal.
In very few countries, it is completely illegal to gamble for real money online and players are even prosecuted for doing so. These countries are Poland, Cyprus, North Korea, Cambodia, Brunei, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. In most cases, even if online gambling is officially established as illegal, players are generally not prosecuted.
Gambling activities in some countries are not regulated but are not expressly illegal, either. This means there are either no laws regarding this matter or they are simply inapplicable. Bolivia is one such country. There are also jurisdictions in which the gambling laws that concern online casinos are not clearly stated for one reason or another. In such cases, online gambling activities belong to the so-called grey markets.
Generally speaking, most gambling laws focus on pursuing rogue online casinos and preventing them from offering online activities that are illegal, rather than the actual players who have placed bets. As already indicated, when it comes to online gambling, the laws strictly depend on the country you reside in.
However, this is not the only factor that determines whether you are allowed to play in a particular online casino. You should know that this also greatly depends on the online casino of your choice as every online gambling website has its own country restrictions. This means that every casino has the freedom to choose where to provide its services and from which countries to accept players. Moreover, bear in mind that whenever you decide to register at a particular online casino, you have to accept its terms and conditions. Therefore, it is very important to get familiar with the gambling laws that apply in your country as this is your responsibility.
It should be noted that there is one more way you can be prevented from placing bets online. If you don’t meet the requirement regarding the age limit, set by the website and the country, you won’t be able to gamble. Failing to comply with this regulation can lead to a lot of troubles. The minimum age that is set by most gambling jurisdictions is eighteen.
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Regulatory Gaming Bodies
In the countries that require from casino operators to obtain a license in order to provide online games, the gambling industry is regulated by regulatory gaming bodies. There are several regions, located in various parts of the world, from where licensing authorities are allowed to issue licenses. In order to be able to offer gambling services legally in a particular territory, the online casinos have to apply for a license that is appropriate for the respective region.
One online casino can have several licenses, issued by different authorities, thanks to which it can operate in various countries. These independent authorities are different for every country and they are responsible for monitoring the activity of the online casinos and making sure that the operators are crime-free. For instance, the authority that is responsible for issuing licenses in the United Kingdom is the UK Gambling Commission. The online casinos that would like to provide online games to UK citizens are granted such a license, providing that they have met all of the established requirements and that they have successfully undergone the verification process.
The online casinos can also obtain a license from offshore gambling authorities such as Curacao e-Gaming Licensing Authority, Isle of Man Gambling Supervision Commission, Kahnawake Gaming Commission, Malta Lotteries & Gaming Authority and the Gibraltar Licensing Authority. If a particular online casino has a license issued by any of the above-mentioned authorities, this is a good indicator that it offers fair games and legal gambling activities.
Types of Remote Gambling Licences Issued in the UK
The UK is home to one of the largest and most mature online gambling markets in the world. Statistics published by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) reveal the total gross gambling yield of the remote betting, casino, and bingo sector reached a whopping £6.4 billion between April 2021 and March 2022, a 12.4% increase compared to the same period two years earlier.
This highly competitive sector is stringently regulated under the provisions of the Gambling Act of 2005, which is currently under review. Remote gambling companies looking to penetrate this thriving market must obtain operating licences from the UKGC before they can legally service and transact with British customers. Three types of licences are issued under the local regulatory regime.
- Remote gambling software licences are necessary for the companies that develop, maintain, and provide gaming software to gambling operators authorised to take bets from local players. Major software suppliers like Microgaming, Playtech, NetEnt, Pragmatic Play, and Evolution Gaming are some of the licensees belonging to this category.
- Key personnel licences are issued to important staff members and employees of the remote gambling businesses. These permits are further divided into two categories. Personal management licences are granted to staff members employed in the fields of financial planning, marketing, and regulatory compliance. Personal functional licences are issued to individuals who occupy inferior job positions like security officers or cashiers, for example.
- Operating licences are awarded to remote gambling businesses looking to provide their services to customers from the United Kingdom (Scotland, Wales, and England). A single operating licence covers multiple forms of remote gambling, including poker, online slots, and table games like baccarat, blackjack, and roulette. The local legislation only makes a distinction between remote and non-remote betting activities. The UKGC cannot grant joint permits that authorise both online and landbased gambling.
Operating Licences Application Process and Requirements
Remote gambling businesses can apply for operating licences online on the website of the UK Gambling Commission. The regulatory body evaluates the suitability and probity of the candidates based on multiple criteria, including their solvency and beneficial ownership. Some of the documents and information the potential licensees must provide during the application process include:
- Ownership and management structure
- Copies of remote gambling permits issued in other jurisdictions (if applicable)
- Gambling software supply information
- Map of operational model
- Business plans and bank statements for the last half a year before the application’s submission
- Revenue forecasts for the three years after the application’s submission
- Proof of funding
- Credit reports (in the case of offshore-based applicants)
- Information about past bankruptcies or liquidations (if applicable)
As you can see, this is a rather bulky set of documents, so it is of utmost importance to submit all the requested information in good order. Otherwise, the regulator will automatically turn the application down. The candidates should be at least 18 years old to apply for operating remote gambling licences.
Application Fees and Assessment Timeframe
Applicants must pay application fees upon submitting their documents but the exact costs are application-specific. The range of remote gambling services the applicant wants to offer is also taken into account. Potential licensees can use the calculator on the UKGC website to work out their fees. If all necessary documentation is submitted in good order, the regulator will assess the application approximately within 16 weeks after the submission.
Licence Cost and Duration
Approved applicants who have met the requirements must pay their first annual licence fee within a 30-day period after obtaining their permits. Those who have been turned down can appeal the regulator’s decision within 28 days. The fees range from £800 to £10,000, depending on the type of appeal and licence.
The remote gambling licences have no expiration date and remain valid indefinitely unless the regulator revokes or suspends them for breaches. Licensees can surrender their operating permits of their own accord as was the case with BGO in November 2021. The operator decided to altogether surrender its licence after the UKGC suspended it for suspected violations of the licensing conditions.
Under the Finance Act of 2014, authorised operators must pay annual licensing fees and taxes on the gross gaming revenue (GGR) they have generated from British customers. The term GGR denotes the difference between the overall amount players have wagered and the amount they have received in the form of winnings. The tax rates vary across the board based on the type of gambling product on offer.
Player Protection Policies in the UK
The British gambling watchdog can instigate enforcement action against remote gambling companies that violate their licensing conditions and codes of practice (LCCP). Licensees must follow strict social responsibility codes that aim to protect British customers, preserve the integrity of the local gambling industry, and mitigate gambling-related harm.
The most common regulatory penalties for non-compliance and social responsibility failures include hefty fines, licence suspension, and licence revocation in the worst-case scenario. Various measures are in place to safeguard local players and promote responsible gambling.
Customer Funds Protection
There are three levels of customer funds protection under the local regulatory framework – zero, medium, and high. Remote gambling operators are recommended to segregate customers’ funds from their operational capital, which falls into the high-level category. The purpose of funds segregation is to protect the money of players in case a given gambling company declares insolvency.
Businesses with medium protection have made arrangements to safeguard their customers’ funds through insurance or a bank guarantee. However, this does not guarantee players will get their money back if the gambling company goes bankrupt. When no protection is in place (zero protection), customer funds are treated as part of the gambling company’s assets and are almost inevitably lost in the event of insolvency.
UKGC licensees must clearly specify in their terms and conditions which level of funds protection applies to their customers. The wording varies from one company to another, depending on the level of protection. Here is an example from the general terms and conditions of 32Red, a company that operates under licence number 039430-R-319293-013 issued by the UKGC in 2014.
“We hold sufficient cash to cover all Account balances in company account(s). Account balances are protected by a bank guarantee which guarantees that there are sufficient funds for customers to withdraw their balances at any time. This meets the UK Gambling Commission’s requirements for the segregation of customer funds at the following level: medium protection.”
Age and Identity Verification
Under the UKGC regulatory framework, all players who sign up with locally licensed gambling sites must undergo obligatory verification checks before they process their first deposit or partake in any gambling activities. Customers must provide the following documents to verify themselves:
- A passport, national ID card, or driving licence as proof of age and identity
- A recent household utility bill as proof of address
- Copies of the front and back of one’s debit card, screenshots of one’ digital wallet, or bank statements as proof of payment method
A selfie may also be requested in some cases. The verification procedure aims to ensure the customer is old enough to gamble legally and confirm they have not previously self-excluded from gambling participation. The bank statements and card copies enable the operators to trace the customers’ source of funds. This is a standard practice that helps prevent money laundering or gambling with stolen money. If a customer is found to be underage or fails to pass the verification check, the operator must immediately close down the account.
Responsible Gambling Tools
The UKGC takes responsible gambling very seriously and requires all licensees to provide a set of tools that help players keep their gambling activities in check. Locally licensed gambling sites typically allow their customers to put a cap on their daily, weekly, and monthly deposits. This prevents online gamblers from going over the amounts they feel comfortable spending.
Players can also restrict the duration of their gambling sessions or set timers to remind them how much time they have spent gambling. These timers are known as reality checks and the player must acknowledge them to remove them from the screen. Customers can take short breaks from gambling called ‘cool-off’ periods and self-exclude temporarily or permanently.
Those who suffer from severe gambling problems can register with GAMSTOP to exclude themselves from all UKGC-licensed online gambling sites with a single request. This is similar to MOSES (Multi-Operator Self-Exclusion Scheme), a service that enables British punters to exclude themselves from multiple betting shops by making a single phone call.
UKGC licensees must consistently screen the accounts and activity of their customers to identify individuals who are at risk or gamble beyond their means. Inaction or failure to protect players who exhibit signs of problem gambling and addiction results in severe penalties for the operators, including public censure, heavy fines, licence suspension, or complete revocation.
It makes sense that all marketing of gambling services and products must also be conducted in a socially responsible fashion. The advertising materials should not contain misleading information or target individuals below the legal gambling age in the country (18 years old). No children or minors can appear in gambling-related adverts. The ads cannot prompt people to participate in any gambling activities.
People who are younger or appear to be younger than 25 years cannot be shown gambling in the marketing materials. There is also a whistle-to-whistle ban that prohibits the broadcasting of sports betting commercials on television before the 9 pm watershed. The body tasked with regulating gambling advertisements is the UK Advertising Standards Agency (ASA).
Where to Seek Help for Problem Gambling in the UK
Data published by the National Health Security Agency suggests approximately 246,000 British citizens are likely to suffer from some form of a gambling disorder. As many as 2.2 million individuals are at risk of becoming problem gamblers. On the bright side of things, many organisations provide free assistance and advice to Brits who suffer from these conditions. We cover the most popular ones below.
GAMSTOP is a non-profit organisation that allows players to exclude themselves from all online gambling sites that carry the UKGC stamp of approval with a single exclusion request. The self-exclusion via this system is possible for half a year, a year, or five years. The service is quite effective as problem gamblers cannot cancel their exclusion before the end of their chosen period.
Website https://www.gamstop.co.uk/ Telephone 0800 138 6518 firstname.lastname@example.org
- GamCare has been raising awareness about gambling addiction since 1997. The organisation provides free advice, counselling, and assistance to problem gamblers and their families. GamCare operates the National Gambling Helpline, which is at gamblers’ disposal around the clock. Requesting free face-to-face counselling is also an option, and so is contacting the organisation via Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.
Website https://www.gamcare.org.uk/ Telephone 0808 8020 133 (National Gambling Helpline) email@example.com
- The Gordon Moody Association is one of the leading charities that provides counselling, treatment, and assistance to gambling addicts from Great Britain. Based in Dudley, England, the organisation offers various recovery programmes that enable problem gamblers to overcome their addiction and reclaim their lives. Gordon Moody has been assisting gambling addicts in their rehabilitation for over half a century.
Website https://gordonmoody.org.uk/ Telephone 0138 4241 292 firstname.lastname@example.org
- BeGambleAware provides confidential counselling and assistance to all British citizens who are worried their gambling behaviour has become problematic. It runs a free telephone line and a live chat facility, both of which operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The organisation helps provide free treatment to 12,000 gambling addicts each year.
Website https://www.begambleaware.org/ Telephone 0808 8020 133 (National Gambling Helpline) email@example.com
- The National Gambling Treatment Service comprises a countrywide network of organisations that offer confidential support, advice, and assistance to citizens who suffer from gambling addiction or gambling-related harm. It is available to all gamblers based in Wales, England, and Scotland. You can learn more about the network on the official BeGambleAware website.
- Gam-Anon helps people whose lives have been negatively affected by the gambling addiction of their loved ones. The entity operates globally but organises local meetings where the relatives of problem gamblers can share their personal experiences and find understanding. The initiative is courtesy of Gamblers Anonymous (GA), so the meetings usually take place on the same nights as Gamblers Anonymous meetings but in different rooms.
Telephone 0330 094 0322 firstname.lastname@example.org
To sum up, whether online gambling is legal or not entirely depends on the country you reside in. When it comes to online casinos, there is no universal gambling law that applies to all parts of the world. This is the reason why it is essential to get familiar with the regulations of your own country. It is also advisable to double check these regulations from time to time because the online gambling industry is constantly changing. Some countries are currently in the process of imposing more restrictions on online casinos, whereas others are reconsidering their current gambling laws.
How safe is online gambling?
In general, gambling online is just as safe as playing in a land-based casino. The incredible technological progress made it possible for a number of online casinos to upgrade their security systems and improve the quality of protection of players’ financial and personal data. In order to achieve this goal, most online casinos use a 128-bit SSL encryption technology.
It is essential to double check this aspect in advance to make sure that the online casino of your choice is reliable enough. Also, it is highly advisable to play in only well-established online casinos which have proven to be secure and trustworthy.
Are online casino games fair?
Every fully-licensed online casino offers online games which use a Random Number Generator, often abbreviated simply as RNG. This device is responsible for producing a series of numbers at random which are later translated into particular elements – cards, dices, etc. The outcome of the respective game is different every time and it cannot be predicted. Furthermore, there are several approved independent testing agencies such as eCOGRA and Technical Systems Testing which specialise in RNG evaluations.
Who can legally play at online casinos?
In order to determine whether you can legally place bets online and play a casino game, you need to take into account two major factors – the gambling laws in your country of residence and your age. In the best-case scenario, the laws regarding this matter should state that wagering real-money online is permitted and your age should be at least eighteen.
However, gambling regulations are much more complicated and there might be some other requirements which you have to meet. Since gambling laws greatly vary, it is best to get familiar with the ones that apply in your country in order to make sure you will be able to comply with them. It should be noted that some countries don’t have clearly established laws for online gambling, whereas others have but they focus on the casino operators rather than the players.
Who regulates the online gambling market?
The online gambling market differs from one country to another since the gambling laws that apply on a particular territory are not the same. Several types of markets can be distinguished – regulated, unregulated, grey and black, depending on the requirements of the respective country. In some countries such as the UK, special regulatory bodies are responsible for regulating the market and preventing illegal gambling from taking place. All casino operators are required to obtain a license by a main regulatory body which is, in this case, the UK Gambling Commission.