Navigating the Regulatory Landscape of the UK’s Gambling Business

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The UK has been at the forefront of creating regulated gambling landscapes and is the model that many other countries look to when shaping their own policy in the area.

Overall, the liberalisation of the market, coupled with a robust regulatory framework, has been heralded as a success. Certainly, funding from the UK’s National Lottery has been instrumental to many successful projects in the country. The community fund is behind projects and activities that protect the country’s heritage, transform communities, and enrich lives through sport, arts and culture. Gambling in the UK is no longer something that is done ‘behind closed doors’.

The industry has become incredibly important to the UK economy, and we can hardly switch on our radios or televisions or watch a sporting fixture without being bombarded with gambling ads. A UK House of Lords report said that in 2018, spending on marketing and advertising was £1.5 billion. This has led to concern about children and vulnerable people being over-exposed to gambling messages, particularly as it is estimated that the lion’s share of marketing is online. In 2023, the Gambling Commission’s young people and gambling survey reported that 40% of 11 to 17-year-olds had experienced gambling, and over a quarter said they actively gambled.

One of the problems with the regulatory landscape in the UK is that the gambling liberalisation laws were created for a different time. When lawmakers were trying to work out the best way to both keep the public safe and allow straightforward access to sports and casino gambling in the UK, the internet was still in its infancy. Someone might have thought that online casinos might be a possibility one day, but with painfully slow internet connections and very little online security, it was not a proposition that was considered a genuine possibility. When you consider how easily online you can find a casino these days, it is no wonder there have had to be some updates to the legislation.

The first step towards the UK gambling market, as we know it today, was the legislation that brought about the National Lottery, and the first draw took place on November 19th 1994. The UK Gambling Act 2005 was passed by the UK Parliament on April 7th 2005 and was fully implemented by September 2007. The aim of the law was to provide new powers and protections, including the establishment of the Gambling Commission. The law was put in place to keep gambling crime-free, ensure that gambling was fair and open and that children and vulnerable adults were protected. The act was underpinned by social responsibility and a new regime with fair regulation to allow people to enjoy gambling and encourage an important industry to thrive while behaving responsibly. The law made provision for close consultative working between all the relevant authorities, the industry and those dealing with the fallout of problem gambling.

The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 amended the 2005 Act to ensure that online gambling was properly regulated. It made it compulsory for companies who wanted to offer online gambling in Great Britain to have an appropriate licence from the UK Gambling Commission. This is regardless of the jurisdiction where they are based. At the same time, the Gambling Commission made a number of changes to the Licence Conditions and Code of Practice (LCCP). It is a legal requirement for operators to verify the age of customers before they can deposit money and gamble access play for free versions of gambling games. Customers’ date of birth, email address name, and address all have to be verified, as do the customers’ payment methods. They also have to prove that they match the name of the gambling account holder.  Since 2020, it has been illegal to take payments on credit cards, and customers can set daily, weekly and monthly spending limits on their accounts.

However, there is still concern that more needs to be done to protect vulnerable people. On February 23rd, the UK government announced that stake limits for online slots for those under 25 would be reduced to £2 in September, with £5 limits for those over 25. There will be a six-week transition period during which operators have to become compliant with the general £5 stake limit rule. There will then be a further six-week window for them to develop any necessary technical solutions to implement the £2 limit for 18-24-year-olds.

Gambling Minister Stuart Andrew said: “Although millions of people gamble safely every single day, the evidence shows that there is a significantly higher problem gambling rate for online slot games. We also know that young adults can be more vulnerable when it comes to gambling-related harms, which is why we committed to addressing both of these issues in our white paper. The growing popularity of online gambling is clear to see, so this announcement will level the playing field with the land-based sector and is the next step in a host of measures being introduced this year that will protect people from gambling harms.”

It is unlikely that this is the last change that we will see in the UK when it comes to gambling laws, although it is doubtful that the proposed changes will make it onto the statute book before the next General Election.

The government wants to see the Gambling Commission get stricter powers to fine gambling companies that fail to protect people who are at risk. While millions can enjoy the occasional flutter and safely play casino games, it is estimated that there are around 300,000 people who are affected by problem gambling. Anyone hoping to establish a gambling business in the UK needs to proceed with caution. Earlier this year, William Hill was fined over £19 million because its failures allowed a customer to lose £23,000 in under half an hour.

There are also plans to close loopholes to ensure under-18s cannot gamble and this all comes on the back of the Premier League’s decision to ban gambling advertising on the front of club’s shirts from the end of the 2025/26 season. The latest Government White Paper includes proposals for sports governing bodies to support a Code of Practice on gambling sponsorship and improve gambling sponsorship standards.

Image by Fathromi Ramdlon from Pixabay

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