British Gambling Regulations
From football pools to bingo halls, flashy casinos, weekly lottery draws, and a “Great British Bookmaker”, otherwise known as “the Bookies”, on every corner (at least until more recently), the United Kingdom would seem to be one of the more liberal gambling and gaming societies around. But prominence and abundance aside, the question remains, is it legal*?
The long and the short of the matter would seem to be yes. The British government is very involved in regulating gambling, and has basically chosen to make everything above board in an effort to better regulate and protect the Crown’s citizens.
A Bit of UK Gambling Law History
Brits have long had a love affair with placing a wager. So much so that in 1853, the Betting Houses Act was instated to close betting shops down. All the rage of the time, betting houses were seen as places of mischief and detrimental to public welfare. But Brit loving bettors were not to be deterred, as they continued to place their wagers in illegal shops.
As the times changed, and in recognition of reality, betting was made legal in the UK with the passing of the Betting and Gaming Act 1960. Betting shops were now allowed to operate so long as they had a licence and discouraged loitering by removing the TV (if they had one), installing blackout windows, and advertising their service exclusively with the words “Licensed Betting Office”. 
Things further changed with the 1968 Gaming Act, which liberalised laws pertaining to gambling a fair bit. But the real change came about with the Gambling Act of 2005.
Gambling Act 2005
The Gambling Act 2005 (as of the time of writing this article) is the major piece of legislation governing gambling in the UK.
Its goal in creation was multi-fold, not the least of which was as an official response to the novel challenges of digital gambling and online gaming sites. Its passing was the first real attempt to regulate the ever-growing internet gambling industry, to protect players, to ensure gaming providers’ standards are as high as their highest rollers’, and to better protect vulnerable minors and at-risk adults.
So what does the Gambling Act 2005 say? If you’re curious as to the nitty gritty, you can read it in its entirety here. Basically, for our purposes, the Act can be summarized as the piece of legislation that is meant to control all forms of gambling in the UK. As such, it legalises gambling, based on certain criteria. In addition to introducing regulation for online gambling (a national first), it covers lotteries, bingo halls, sports betting, and more.
The UK Gambling Commission
At the same time as the UK Gambling Act 2005 was passed, the Gambling Commission was created to regulate gambling (both online and offline) throughout Great Britain. In addition to monitoring duties, it is also the sole body that can provide licencing to gambling operators.
While originally licencing was accepted from a multitude of recognised bodies, in December of 2014 the Gambling Act 2005 was updated by the Gambling (Licensing & Advertising) Act 2014, which among other things requires all offshore gambling companies to hold a licence from the Gambling Commission in order to offer their services in the UK.
Below is a brief overview of how the Gambling Commission regulates the UK’s favourite gambling pastimes, before and since the 2005 Gambling Act.
One of the primary inspirations for the Gambling Act of 2005 was the increasing popularity of online gaming amongst Brits; hence, it makes sense that online gaming is fully legislated by that very Act. As such, all online sites – casino, poker and sports alike – must have official licencing & certification from the UK Gambling Commission.
Possibly the oldest form of betting in the UK, British gamblers – and those who consider themselves non-gamblers – love sports betting. As covered in the history above, sports betting was once done legally at betting shops, banned in the 1850s, and gradually reintroduced in the 1960s. Today, it is covered by the Gambling Act 2005, with bets placed through licenced websites and offline bookmakers.
Licensing laws for casinos were far stricter in the UK before the Gaming Act of 1968 (now superseded by the 2005 Act). Before 1968, a casino could have no more than 10 machines on its premises, and had to treat patrons as members, including charging a membership fee. But the 1968 Act softened these requirements somewhat, and now, thanks to the 2005 Act, even Vegas-style “super casinos” are in the works .
Bingo halls in Britain have been around since the end of World War II – originally serving as a source of community, morale, and camaraderie at a time when many Brits needed it most. Once considered the local senior population’s game of choice, and now popular amongst Brits of all ages, Bingo was first legalised by the Betting and Gaming Act 1960.
Today, Britain’s bingo culture is increasingly moving from the bingo halls to online bingo sites, not by legal necessity or persuasion (the 2005 Act covers bingo as well) – it’s just that’s how millennials prefer to play.
What about the tax**?
Taxation is a complicated matter, and a recognized expert should always be consulted as we’re certainly not qualified as either lawyers or accountants.
The best we can offer, as such, is our understanding, which to-date is that Brits are not expected to share their gambling winnings with anyone, even the UK government – as financial returns on gambling are treated as winnings (including multi-million pound jackpots from the UK National Lottery).
While winnings used to be taxed, in 2001 the taxation was abolished, in the national budget of then Chancellor Gordon Brown. In lieu, bookmakers were to be taxed 15% of their gross profits, though this point of consumption (POC) tax only went into effect with the passing of the Gambling (Licensing & Advertising) Act 2014.
With the Gambling Act 2005 and Gambling Commission to back it up, it seems to be that online gambling is an acceptable pastime for Brits to engage in. However, when doing so, you do so at your own risk. Make sure to keep abreast of possible changes to the law – including taxation – and only gamble at sites covered by UK legislation.
*This article should not be considered legal advice. Local legislation, restrictions and enforcement are subject to change. In addition, we have no responsibility to update this page for events or circumstances occurring after the date of its initial publication.
** This article should not be considered as tax advice. Tax is applied and calculated personally, is subject to change, and may be interpreted retroactively. Any information provided herein, is for general knowledge only and may not be relied on. We urge you to seek advice from a tax professional.