The more you follow regulation and legislation changed in the UK gambling and casino industry, the more it can seem totally impossible to follow.
The UK is famed for being quite liberal when it comes to its laws on betting, but recent changes to the law, as put in action by now departed head of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) Sarah Harrison have seen the commission clamp down on several unethical practices and put the safety of players firmly at the forefront of the priority list.
There has been official gambling legislation in the UK since way back in 1960, when the Betting and Gaming Act 1960 was granted royal assent by Queen Elizabeth II.
Obviously, gambling existed before this point, but it was after this act that betting and wagering became legal in the country.
The 1960 Act was used for a long time, but after the online casino industry came to life in the mid-1990s, it became gradually apparent that the industry had changed, and legislation would have to be altered to accommodate it.
This school of thought culminated in the creation of the Gambling Act 2005, which was essentially a total overhaul of the casino industry, changing laws that had, in some cases, been in effect since the mid-1800s, when the gambling landscape was, obviously, very different to the one we know today.
The three aims of the 2005 Act were to eradicate criminal elements from the industry, ensure that all gambling is fair and transparent, and safeguard vulnerable players from gambling associated risks and harm.
It is fair to say that it’s been a long process since 2005 and the aims of the Act have not all been accomplished yet, but it is in no way an overstatement to say that the Gambling Act 2005 revolutionised the industry.
One of the most important things that came from the 2005 Act was the forming of the UK Gambling Commission, which was created in order to ensure the above aims were carried out.
These days, the UKGC regulates all gambling across the UK (with the exception of Northern Ireland).
Many perks came from the forming of the UKGC, these included:
The commission has been hard at work since its inception, and it’s had to be, as they are in charge of regulating arcades, betting, bingo, gambling software, live casinos, online casinos, gaming machines, lotteries, and more. Apart from spread betting, regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the UKGC is essentially in control of regulating all forms of gambling in the UK.
Every gambling company that operates, either through land-based or online outlets, needs a license from the UKGC and, therefore, to work within the regulations set out by the commission.
These licenses are granted in accordance with the principles of the Gambling Act 2005, and as a result, prioritise keeping crime out of the gambling industry, keeping games fair, and protecting vulnerable and underage people.
The commission provides numerous guides and other sources to help players keep themselves and their money secure and protected whenever they are playing at a land-based or online casino. Whenever a player feels like this is not happening, they are able to file a complaint with the commission, or via the third-party dispute resolution provider that all casinos are required to offer by law.
The casino industry, especially in the online world, is evolving at a startling rate and it is, therefore necessary for legislation to keep up. As a result, there have been further acts passed to reflect the changes in the industry.
For example, the Gambling Licensing and Advertising Act 2014 added the requirement that online casinos operating in the UK, even those not based in the country, need a license from the commission. It was also added that these sites must pay a 15% tax on their profits, this is to ensure that players do not have to pay tax on their winnings, because that is handled by the casinos themselves.
The Act also made it so only operators who hold a licence are able to advertise their product to British players, as otherwise they would be advertising a site it would be illegal for British players to spend money at.
There were a few extra aims to the act, as well as ensuring a level playing field between British and non-British operators when it comes to providing casino games to British players.
Firstly, it also ensures that the UKGC’s overseas work is funded by the tax charged to those licensed in the UK, meaning that the taxpayer has no need to subsidise this work.
The Act also looked to reduce the problem of illegal gambling by ensuring all sites operating in the UK are licensed and regulated.
These changes also made it far simpler for UK players to know where was legal to play, the UKGC has a list of all licensed casinos, so it’s quick and easy to find out whether a specific casino is a legal and safe place to play.
The Act was not taken well by many in the gambling industry, especially the operators themselves, many of whom claimed that there was no real evidence to back up the claim that British customers had been worse off before the Act, while operators would be probably worse off after it.
The Gibraltar Betting and Gaming Association (GBGA) took their case to high court, claiming that the Act was “unlawful because it is an illegitimate, disproportionate and discriminatory interference with the right to free movement of services guaranteed by Article 56 TFEU” while adding that it would encourage unlicensed gambling.
Justice Nicholas Green rejected the claim, stating that the GBGA had failed to establish that the Act was unlawful, adding that several legitimate objectives were accomplished by the changes.
The face of the UK Gambling Commission has recently undergone a drastic change with the departure of Sarah Harrison, who has taken a job in the UK government.
Harrison spearheaded some of the biggest changes of recent years, and oversaw multi-million-pound fines to several high-profile customers during her last full year in 2017, most of which were due to unethical practices, or the failure to protect vulnerable and problem gamblers.
Many are concerned about the Commission in Harrison’s absence, but a three-year plan released by the UKGC that covers the period from 2018 to 2021 makes it clear that the Commission has every intention of carrying on as they were.
The main subject of the plan revolves around creating a fair, safe, and transparent gaming environment for all players, and to continue working to keep crime away from the gambling industry and protecting vulnerable players.
With over 32 million gamblers in the UK (29% who only play the National Lottery), the levels of trust that the British people have for the gambling industry has dropped from 49% in 2008, to 34% now and the UKGC looks to reverse that trend.
0.8% of the UK’s population are classified as problem gamblers, and it is the aim of the Commission to reduce that across the three years of their plan.
Over the next three years, the UKGC believe that players must be provided with relevant and sufficient information to make informed choices about their gambling, and ensuring a safe environment for gamblers.
The Commission will also endeavour to continue it collaborative work with GambleAware and the Responsible Gaming Strategy Board to create plans and directives aimed to protect those most susceptible to the dangers of gambling.
The UKGC also has plans to ensure the National Lottery continues to support good causes for the remainder of its license, which expires in 2023, The Commission states that it will shape effective competition for Lotto, while making the changes necessary to ensure that the social good done by the National Lottery’s funding is optimised.
Not just pointing the finger, the UKGC also turns its three-year plan for itself, saying that it holds the improvement of its own regulation as one of its highest priorities.
The aim to guarantee a safe and transparent market is something that the UKGC takes very seriously, and they consider themselves at the forefront of that movement. As a result, the Commission will remain committed to providing the best services to ensure that its goals and targets are achieved over the next three years and beyond.
With an interim head at this point, while the UKGC selects the right replacement for Sarah Harrison, it is clear that the Commission is still intent to carry through on its promises and create a fair gaming environment for all.
Legislation can be wordy and complex at times, and for some, just knowing that gambling is legal is enough information.
But for those who like to know more, and feel strongly about feeling safe and protecting while gambling, and that the industry should remain as transparent as possible at all times, it is worth keeping an eye on the UKGC and the regulations they have, and will create in the future.