Online Casino Regulation

First things first – it is totally legal to play online casinos and other forms of online gambling if you live in the UK.

However, there have been and still are many changes taking place to UK online casino legislation. Most of these refer to taxation which, considering the £1.7 billion a year spent gambling online, is a big deal.

The current system in place means that the UK government receives very little tax due to online casinos being based and regulated in offshore jurisdictions. The reason for this is that the companies can pay much less tax to these jurisdictions, such as Gibraltar and Malta, than they would have to pay to the UK government.

The companies that choose to remain in the UK have to apply for a remote operating licence as defined by the Gambling Act 2005. Although this is obviously the preferential option in terms of convenience, the high tax rates have meant that most casino operators who had been based in the UK have moved abroad.

The Gambling Act 2005 served to update several pieces of legislature to take into account online gambling, referred to as remote gambling. The act covered all areas of gambling from land based casinos and bingo halls to spread betting and lotteries. It also enforced the creation of the Gambling Commission to regulate the gambling industry in the UK.

The Whitelist

One of the first things the Gambling Commission set about doing once they came into existence was to establish the Whitelist. This piece of legislation was co-created with the help of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and comprised of a list of jurisdictions.

Only companies which are licensed in a jurisdiction that is on this list are permitted to legally advertise in the UK. If you think back a few years, you may have noticed there has been a wave of new television, radio and print adverts promoting gambling companies – these companies are therefore based in these locations.

The list of jurisdictions includes:

  • European Community jurisdictions
  • Gibraltar
  • Alderney
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Isle of Man
  • Tasmania

To become a whitelisted jurisdiction, there are a few requirements which must be met. Most of them are with regards to ensuring that the gambling which is licensed by the jurisdiction is fair, doesn't affect children or the vulnerable and has nothing to do with crime. More importantly to the average player are the requirements that all winnings must be paid out within a reasonable amount of time and that the appropriate authorities can be contacted should there be an issue with an operator.

Despite still being in operation, the Whitelist has ceased taking applications since 2009 with plans to improve or change the system currently in place.

Regulatory Organisations

Ultimately, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has responsibility for gambling in the UK. But to regulate both online and land based gambling, the DCMS employ the services of a number of regulatory bodies, trade bodies and help organisations.

Regulatory bodies involved include the Gambling Commission, who oversee day-to-day issues regarding all forms of gambling including online casinos, and the Financial Services Authority who regulate the payments made to and from online casinos.

The Remote Gambling Association (RGA) is another key player in UK online casino regulation, as a large number of the top online casino operators are members of the association. The RGA creates a forum for companies to collectively decide on decisions affecting the industry and its players.

It's worth remembering that lots of the so-called regulatory bodies and watchdog groups have vested interests in the casinos that they work with or list. As such, take the opinions and recommendations made by these groups with a pinch of salt. They might well be valid points, but there's no harm in doing a bit of primary research just to be safe.

For example, the Interactive Gaming Council (IGC) sounds extremely authoritative and even awards a 'Seal of Approval' to casinos it says are reputable and honest. However, the IGC is actually just a trade organisation made up of a large group of online casino operators.

There have been many issues with online gambling being self-regulatory and this is one of the most prominent attempts to make it so. To be fair, the IGC does actually tend to require a high standard of transparency, accountability and fairness from their casinos. However, the bottom line is that they are not a government organisation.

Finally, addiction support organisations such as GamCare, Gam-Anon and Gordon House Association not only help individual cases but work with regulators to ensure that online casino legislation doesn't encourage addictive gambling.