The most important thing to remember is that online gambling in the UK is legal, as laid out by the Gambling Act 2005. But to offer online and mobile casino games to players in the UK, also known as remote gambling, operators must first obtain a licence from the Great Britain Gambling Commission (GBGC).
Most sites also hold additional permits with regulators/licensing authorities such as the Malta Gambling Authority, the Alderney Gambling Control Commission, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man. This reinforces their GBGC licence, and allows them to offer games to players in other regulated markets around the world.
To obtain a licence, operators must ensure they are compliant with standards set by the Gambling Commission in relation to all aspects of their business, from how players are registered, to the fairness of games offered, via security, anti-money laundering and fraud prevention. It even covers individuals in the senior management team.
Most importantly, however, it sets in stone the protocols operators must have in place to protect players from developing problem play. Things like software that tracks betting habits and automatically flags those at risk, and the option for players to set wager and loss limits, and to exclude themselves from sites.
The intention of licensing and regulation is to a) ensure the integrity of the online casino sites operating in the UK, b) reassure players that they are depositing money into reputable sites and businesses, and c) to provide proper channels for players to make complaints if they need to.
Most licensed sites offer exemplary customer service – and are quick to respond to, and resolve – any issues players may have. But there are occasions when further action is required, and the Gambling Act binds the rights of online casino patrons into law, including the option to complain to independent third parties.
The regulation and licensing of online casino sites also boosts the government’s tax reserves. To give you an idea of just how big a business it is, between October 2015 and September 2016, UK-facing online casino sites (including the National Lottery) generated a gross gaming yield of £4.5bn.
In previous years, operators have reduced their tax liability in the UK by basing their companies overseas. However, a change made to the Gambling Act back in 2014 now means operators offering online casino games to UK players face a 15% levy at the point of consumption.
The move has been unpopular with most online casino operators – many of whom now pay tax in the UK as well as the countries where they are headquartered – but others believe it has helped further the transparency and legitimacy of the industry, and to the benefit of players.
Looking back – a brief history of UK online casino regulation
The Gambling Act of 2005 was a game-changer for online casino sites in the UK, as well as the wider gambling industry. It made several key amendments to existing gambling legislation, but in particular helped bring online casino sites out of the shadows and into the light.
Previously, the Gambling Board was responsible for providing industry oversight, and while it was doing a brilliant job of keeping land-based gambling operators in check, little was being done in the online space. Given the rapid rate at which remote gambling was growing, the government realised it needed to be properly regulated.
It also established the Gambling Commission, which assumed full power and took over regulatory and licensing duties from the Gambling Board, in 2007. This included, for the first time, licensing and regulating remote gambling operators offering online casino games to UK players.
The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act of 2014 brought additional measures into place. It requires that all remote gambling operators plying their trade in the UK apply for a licence from the Gambling Commission, and pay a 15% point of consumption tax on gross profits.
Who’s who – the regulatory bodies and what they do
When choosing an online casino, it is vital to select one that is regulated and licensed by the Gambling Commission. Not only does it ensure you receive the best possible experience with games that are trustworthy and fair, but in the event of a dispute you have several channels through which to seek resolution.
We have all heard stories about players losing their money on shady off-shore casino sites, and the Gambling Commission was established with the mission to identify and pull down the shutters on such businesses. Most operators are proud of their GBGC permit, and it will be displayed prominently on their sites.
About the Gambling Commission
The Gambling Commission was formed under the Gambling Act 2005 and is responsible for regulating and licensing gambling in the UK, including online casino sites and the National Lottery.
It sits under the Department for Culture Media and Sport, and is an executive non-departmental public body – that just means it is not an integral part of a government department, and carries out its work at arm’s length from ministers and politicians.
The Commission’s main objectives are to:
- Prevent gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime
- Ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way
- Protect children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling
It employs more than 290 people, who work from its Birmingham headquarters and other locations across the country. It is overseen by Chief Executive Sarah Harrison and Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Bill Moyes.
It is funded by the licence fees paid for by casino and gambling operators, as well as a grant from the National Lottery Distribution Fund. In 2016, licence fees – for both land-based and online gambling – amounted to £19.75m.
Licence application fees for remote gambling operators range from £2,640 to £57,304 (based on gross gambling yield) with annual renewal fees ranging from £2,709 to £512,083+ (again, based on gross gaming yield).
Any online casino site offering games to UK players must obtain a licence from the Gambling Commission. If they don’t, they are operating illegally and are at risk of being shut down and legal action brought against those behind it.
About the Advertising Standards Authority
Back in 1961, the Advertising Association established the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which was asked to draft the Code of Advertising Practice (also known as the CAP Code). A year later, the Advertising Standards Authority was formed to adjudicate adverts that breached this new code.
The ASA is a non-statutory organisation so cannot interpret or enforce legislation. It is not funded by the British government, but rather by a levy on the advertising industry. Its current CEO is Guy Parker and its Chairman is Lord Smith of Finsbury.
The authority has a wide remit, and monitors advertising for press, radio and TV, adverts on the internet, smartphones and tablets, advert claims on company websites, email and text message adverts, posters and billboards, leaflets and brochures, cinema adverts, direct mail and even social media.
When investigating a complaint, the ASA will consider:
- What harm or detriment has occurred or might occur
- Balance the risk of taking action versus inaction
- The likely impact of intervention
- What resource would be proportionate to the problem to be tackled
According to the ASA, around 80% of complaints made don’t require any further action. But for those that do, and those that are found to breach code, the watchdog can take the following actions:
- Request they withdraw the advert
- Refer advertisers to Trading Standards and OFCOM, which can impose fines and even withdraw broadcast licences
- CAP can alert its members, and ask them to withhold services such as access to advertising space
- Ask internet search providers to remove a marketer’s paid-for search advertising when those adverts link to a page on their site that breaks the CAP Code
- Publish the name and details of the company/marketer in its weekly rulings bulletin, with the page designed to appear in search results when the company’s name is looked up
- Place adverts/messaging in search engine results
Most online casino operators have broken the CAP code at some point; Paddy Power is a regular with its tongue in cheek approach to marketing – but in most cases, they accept, and fully comply with, the ASA’s ruling.
This usually means agreeing to not run the advert again in its current format, and to ensure all future adverts adhere to the requirements laid out under the CAP Code.
The ASA’s latest rulings can be found by clicking here.
About Alternative Dispute Resolution Services
All online casino operators licensed by the Gambling Commission must appoint an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) body. The ADR is independent from the operator, and will take another look at your complaint if you have been unable to resolve it directly with the online casino operator.
The online casino must choose an ADR from a list that has been approved by the Gambling Commission. They must name their ADR in their complaints procedure, but you, as the player, must use the approved ADR they have chosen to work with.
An ADR will look into complaints about the outcome of your gambling, but only once you have complained directly to the casino operator, been through their process, and received a decision.
ADRs are free to use, but if you are asked to provide additional information to support your complaint then you are liable to cover those expenses.
The ADR will let you know once they have received your complaint, and will aim to make a decision within 90 days. If they expect it to take longer than that, they will contact you to make you aware of this.
The ADR’s decision is usually final, but you can consider taking your complaint to court if you wish. However, you are advised to seek independent legal advice before doing this as court cases can be lengthy and costly.
About licensing authorities
Licensing authorities are jurisdictions where UK casinos hold their operating licences, and usually where their game servers are located. Licensing authorities are located all over the world, but the most trusted are:
Gibraltar: Gibraltar is thought to see more than 60% of all global online gambling business come through its borders. It currently licenses 30 operators and suppliers, including the likes of 888casino, Ladbrokes and Betfair.
Alderney: The Alderney Gambling Control Commission has been licensing operators and suppliers for 16 years now. It is one of the most experienced regulators, and has gold-star standards when it comes to anti-money laundering and fraud requirements.
Isle of Man: The Gambling Supervision Commission was established in 1962 to regulate land-based gambling operators, but has since expanded its scope to cover remote gambling. It was one of the first jurisdictions to do this, following the implementation of the Online Gambling Regulation Act 2001.
Malta: The Malta Gaming Authority is responsible for regulating all forms of betting in Malta, including remote gambling. It licenses both operators and suppliers, including the likes of LeoVegas and Mr Green.
Other notable organisations
There are also several associations and bodies that self-regulate the industry. They do not supersede the role of the Gambling Commission and licensing jurisdictions, but serve to strengthen the work they do.
One of the largest and most influential is the Remote Gambling Association, which is made up of a large number of online casino sites. It acts as a forum for operators to discuss the trends impacting their businesses, players and the wider industry.
eCOGRA is another trade body that works on a similar premise, but also offers testing and certification for operators and suppliers. It is also an approved ADR.
It must be remembered, however, that these associations are made up of online casino operators and suppliers, who have a vested interest in the industry. They must not be confused with the Gambling Commission and licensing authorities.
This can be done easily; eCOGRA awards a Safe and Fair Seal and a Certified Software Seal to operators and suppliers who meet its Generally Accepted Practice requirements, which many display on their home page.
While it is a good indicator that an online casino site is above board, it does not replace a licence from the Gambling Commission or the likes of Gibraltar and Malta.
How to make a complaint
Online casinos want to keep their players happy, and have dedicated customer support teams on hand 24/7, 365 days a year to ensure this is the case. But from time to time you may wish to challenge the outcome of a game, and lodge a complaint.
Complaints need to be clear and concise, and supported with as much evidence as possible. It is also important to attempt to resolve the issue with the operator first before escalating it to their ADR.
Here is a step by step guide to making a complaint:
- Write down clearly and concisely the issue you have. This can include whether you have won, how much you have been paid, how you have been paid, bonus offers and decisions to void your bet.
- Collate as much evidence as possible to support your complaint. This can include screenshots, dates, times, account balances, emails – anything you believe strengthens your case.
- Remember to keep copies of all communications and evidence!
- Speak with a representative from the online casino. Explain your complaint, and send them the evidence you have gathered.
- Remember to remain calm and do not lose your temper.
- The operator will follow their complaints procedure. Once the investigation is complete they will inform you of the outcome of your complaint.
- If you do not believe your complaint has been resolved satisfactorily, you can contact the ADR they work with or their licensing authority.
- The decision of the ADR is usually final, but consumers can take their complaint to court if they wish.
- The Gambling Commission does not handle complaints relating to gambling outcomes, but does look into issues with how the business is being run, such as underage players being able to open accounts.