The legalities of gambling in the UK* have gone through a number of changes over the years, especially in more recent times with the massive growth in online gambling sites. As a player you want to know that what you’re doing is on the right side of the law, and the good news is if you’re located in the UK and over the age of 18 you’re probably ok playing at online gambling sites.
When it comes to gambling, we’re lucky enough to be living in one of the most liberal countries in the world. Unlike most other countries, all forms of gambling are legal in the UK, as stipulated by the Gambling Act 2005, a rather lengthy document that covers just about every element and angle of gambling you can imagine, for those residing in England, Scotland, and Wales. At the same time as the Act was passed, the Gambling Commission was established to serve as the primary regulatory body for almost all gambling formats, including casinos, bingo halls, online gaming, and lotteries.
The Act wasn’t created simply as a free for all for Brits to enjoy their gaming. Rather its inspiration was multi-fold including in the words of the Gambling Commission:
(a) Preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime,
(b) Ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way, and
(c) Protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling.
As such, there are numerous provisions and monitoring systems that were put into place to protect the population, in particular minors (those under 18), especially when playing over the Internet.
The Gambling Commission is the body responsible for issuing licences to gambling operators, in line with the government run Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). In addition to the actual licensing, the Gambling Commission also manages complaints, investigates and prosecutes illegal gambling activities, levies fines on perpetrators, and revokes gambling licences if necessary.
All gambling operations based in the UK that serve the UK public must be licensed by the Gambling Commission. Originally it was stipulated that all operators who advertise their services within the UK but are based abroad, must either obtain a licence from the Gambling Commission, or a whitelisted gambling jurisdiction – i.e. “gambling jurisdictions that are allowed to advertise gambling services on the territory of the United Kingdom” , such as European Economic Areas (EEA), the Isle of Man, and Gibraltar.
In 2014, the second part (of whitelisted jurisdictions) was challenged by the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill which implemented licensing requirements in such a way that any company wishing to advertise gambling services and/or take bets from customers residing in the UK must be licensed explicitly by the Gambling Commission. In May 2014, the bill was made an Act of Parliament, making UK Gambling Commission licensing a mandatory part of local gaming.
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And now for a bit more specifics, here’s how the most popular forms of gambling are regulated in the UK:
First legalised in Britain after WW2, Bingo was legitimised by the Betting and Gaming Act 1960. This Act allowed official Bingo halls to be opened, although they had to charge players a membership fee (which has since been abolished). Now bingo – both online and offline – like most forms of gambling in the UK, falls under the jurisdiction of the Gambling Act 2005, and requires licensing accordingly.
Before 1968, casinos were set up like clubs and charged membership fees for entry. They were only allowed up to a maximum of 10 gaming machines, but as they grew in popularity the laws began to relax. The Gaming Act of 1968 lifted a number of these restrictions, allowing casinos to offer a wider range of games and removing the compulsory membership fee.
Once the Gambling Act 2005 came into effect, the controversial resort style casinos were legalised although with tight restrictions around where and how many can be built.
Online gambling (including casino gambling) is, as of last check, legal in the UK and licenced by the Gambling Commission, which goes into great detail about every aspect covered including the compliance process, licence conditions, codes of practice, remote gambling and software technical standards, and much more. Note: If you’re so inclined, in addition to details of the law, the Gambling Commission website is also an excellent resource for all matters UK gambling related.
Sports betting has been one of the more stringently regulated areas of UK gambling in the past, but the regulations have eased over the years, since the 1960 Gambling Act made off-course bookmakers legal.
Licenced websites and bookmakers are the main places where sports betting is done in the UK and the most popular games are horseracing, greyhound racing and football.
We’re not accountants here – so don’t take everything we say at face value.
That being said, from what the law seems to say, the taxman isn’t interested in dipping into your winnings**. That’s because winnings from gambling – whether lotto, sports betting or slots play – is and not considered income (unless you are a professional player).
There are two strange thoughts behind that. One is that in the UK, a tax system has to be able to both collect and reward. That is, if income is to be taxed, there needs to be an ability to claim a tax credit on a loss as well. That means if a tax was levied on bets won, then the system would also need to issue credits for bets lost. Additionally, gambling is seen as a pastime, and not a form of gainful employment. 
When you’re gambling online in the UK, always make sure the site you’re playing at is licensed and regulated by the Gambling Commission. Any site that’s operating legally should proudly display its certification credentials, usually (in the footer) on each page of the site.
Gambling is a fun pastime enjoyed by many an individual in the UK. Online gambling in particular is a popular form of entertainment, which has become increasingly popular over the years. Thanks to local legislation and the UK Gambling Commission, you have excellent guidelines to stay safe. That being said, it is always paramount to take responsibility in your own hands, monitor the local laws, choose your gambling site selectively, and keep your wagering under control.
** 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.