The United Kingdom is often recognized as Europe's largest gambling market, and correspondingly, the Gambling Commission, commonly known as the 'UKGC,' boasts a workforce of well over 300 employees, solidifying its position as the largest gambling regulatory body in Europe in terms of staff size.
The UK Gambling Commission, often referred to as the UKGC, carries a name that can be misleading, given that its authority does not extend to all regions within the United Kingdom. Notably, Northern Ireland falls beyond the purview of the UKGC. Therefore, the more accurate term for this regulatory body is the “Gambling Commission of Great Britain,” covering England, Scotland, and Wales.
Established in accordance with the Gambling Act of 2005, the UKGC’s primary role is to oversee and regulate individuals and businesses involved in gambling activities within Great Britain. Under the provisions of this act, licenses were made accessible for various forms of gambling, and both companies and individuals were eligible to apply for licenses through the UKGC.
A significant shift in the regulation of online gambling in Great Britain occurred in 2015 with the implementation of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill. This legislation mandated that all overseas-based gambling companies offering services to British consumers must obtain a license from the UKGC and adhere to its regulations. This approach, termed “point of consumption regulation,” mirrored similar laws established in France, Italy, Denmark, and other jurisdictions.
Before 2015, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport maintained a “Whitelist” of jurisdictions from which operators could advertise their services to British customers. These jurisdictions included all EU/EEA countries, Alderney, Isle of Man, Antigua & Barbuda, Gibraltar, and Tasmania. Most major UK operators were licensed and operated from Gibraltar, Isle of Man, or Malta prior to the implementation of point of consumption regulation.
Since then, the UKGC has gained a reputation as one of the strictest and most rigorous regulators in Europe, frequently imposing substantial penalties on operators found to be in breach of the law.
In addition to the UKGC, operators in the UK market must also adhere to the requirements set by other regulatory bodies. These include the Advertising Standards Authority, which enforces advertising standards, and the National Crime Agency, serving as the Financial Intelligence Unit in the UK. Taxes are collected by a separate entity, HM Revenue & Customs.
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As of the UKGC’s Annual Report for 2020 to 2021, there are presently 696 active remote licensees. It is important to note that a single operator may hold multiple licenses issued by the Gambling Commission to cover all its activities.
Between April 2020 and March 2021, the British gambling industry generated a gross gambling yield of £14.2 billion. In 2020, 22.1 million adults engaged in gambling, with 12.1 million opting for online gambling, and half of them using mobile platforms.
An exhaustive list of all operators licensed by the Gambling Commission can be accessed here.
The UKGC requires all gambling activities offered to UK customers or operated from the UK to be licensed and regulated. Licensable online games encompass:
- Casino games, including slots
- Live Casino
- Sports betting
- Betting exchanges
- Horse-race betting
- Esports betting
- Lotteries (subject to restrictions, as this is a monopoly in the UK)
The UKGC also grants licenses to business-to-business (B2B) operators and software suppliers.
The UKGC operates as a point of consumption regulator, focusing on protecting consumers within Great Britain exclusively. While non-UK residents are not explicitly prohibited from playing on UKGC-regulated websites, media reports suggest that the UKGC prefers a minimal percentage of players from markets outside the UK. In cases where exposure to a non-UK market exceeds minimal levels, the UKGC may require operators to demonstrate licensing in those jurisdictions.
The UKGC does not impose restrictions on player liquidity with other jurisdictions, a benefit particularly relevant for operators offering peer-to-peer gambling, such as betting exchanges or poker platforms.
The UKGC is renowned for its stringent and exacting approach to gambling regulation, often criticized as “inquisitorial” in nature. Legislative requirements, drafted broadly, are interpreted narrowly and strictly during audits. As a result, even operators considered reputable in most other jurisdictions have faced substantial fines.
The UKGC is also recognized for its effectiveness in detecting suspicious transactions linked to fixed sporting events.
Amidst a worsening public perception of gambling in the UK, the UKGC has adopted a stricter stance. Consequently, players should anticipate operators imposing stringent deposit limits, intervening when players exhibit excessive gambling behavior, especially beyond their financial means or during unusual hours. Operators also frequently request information from players regarding their source of wealth, financial assets, employment, and other details essential for compliance with Safer Gambling and Anti-Money Laundering obligations.
Notable Fines Issued Include:
- A £9.4 million fine to 888 for social responsibility and money laundering failures.
- A license suspension and a £3.8 million fine to Genesis Global for social responsibility and money laundering failures.
- A £7.1 million penalty to Daub Alderney.
- A £5.85 million penalty to Casumo.
Media reports examining an Independent Review of the situation have partly attributed the repercussions from the Football Index failure, resulting in £124 million in customers’ open bets being lost, to the UKGC. The UKGC allegedly failed to detect changes in the operator’s business model, comprehend the business model, or take regulatory action as the business expanded and complaints escalated.