Online gambling (gaming) law
The legal regulation of online gambling varies substantially from nation to nation, state to state. Therefore, it is important to understand the legality of online gambling in your territory before attempting to play via the internet.
The history of online gambling legislation
Although online gambling software hit the market in 1994, it was not until 1996 that internet gambling was legally recognised.
The Kahnawake Gaming Commission (based in the Mohawk Indian Territory of Kahnawake) was founded to regulate online gambling and keep all gaming operations fair and transparent.
As internet play continued to gain popularity, several governments became uneasy. Not only were there concerns about the impact of online gambling at a social level, but it was felt that it represented unwanted competition for domestic leisure industries. On top of that, online gambling was extremely difficult to regulate and tax.
As a result, many countries passed laws to limit – even ban – the activities of online gambling brands within their borders. Nonetheless, the industry still turns over tens of billions of dollars every year.
The United Kingdom regulates gambling through rules set out in the Gambling Act 2005, a piece of legislation that covers every aspect of gambling in the UK as well as how UK players are allowed to access gambling services.
The UK Gambling Act 2005
In 2005, the United Kingdom set out the legal bill that aimed to bring the UK region up to date with the world of online gambling, an industry that continues to grow and evolve. This bill aims to meet three goals:
- The protection of vulnerable persons and children from any harm or exploitation through gambling
- Ensuring the fairness of gambling activities at all times
- Preventing gambling activities from being associated with crime or the proceeds of crime, such as through fraud or money laundering
In order to ensure all of these goals are met, the UK Gambling Commission was set up to handle the licensing of operators allowed to target the UK market. The UKGC oversees the continuous monitoring of gambling websites. The Gambling Act also regulates how gambling can be advertised.
The UK Gambling Commission
The UKGC, as it is known, was created through the Gambling Act 2005 and handles the regulation of all forms of gambling, bingo and lotteries in the United Kingdom, including land-based and online gambling. The only exception is spread betting, which is under the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority.
The main function of the UKGC is to ensure that the three goals of the Gambling Act are met – keeping crime out of gambling, keeping gambling fair and keeping young and vulnerable people safe from exploitation or harm.
The UKGC does this by evaluating applications for licenses, issuing them and then continually monitoring license holders to ensure that they stick to the rules. Online gambling sites that do not conduct business in a safe and efficient manner risk being cautioned, fined or even having their license suspended or withdrawn.
The UKGC Whitelist
Among the many rules the Gambling Act 2005 sets out, there is one that states that all foreign businesses and those who do not hold a UKGC operating license cannot advertise their brands to UK-based customers. This ensures that customers are not exposed to marketing material from companies that have not been subjected to the quality checks of the UKGC.
However, there is what is known as a whitelist. These are jurisdictions that are outside the UK that the UKGC is satisfied meet the standards outlined in the Gambling Act, despite not holding a UK license. Operators based in the following countries are allowed to advertise to UK players:
- EEA (European Economic Area) Countries
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Isle of Man
This whitelist means that casino brands need not necessarily be located within the UK and can benefit from advantageous tax laws in other countries. They can offer their services to UK customers because the UKGC feels that the operating standards they are obligated to uphold are as thorough and stringent as the ones the UKGC sets out for its own license holders.
Top UK licensed casinos
Can I play online?
There are a few factors that determine your legal status as an online gambler. First and foremost, you need to find out whether online gambling is legal in your region. If not, you could be at risk of serious repercussions.
Remember, when you sign up at a casino it is your responsibility to establish your eligibility to play. If you sign up and prove to be ineligible, for any reason, you could face a ban and lose your bankroll, including any deposits.
Money laundering and fraud
It is estimated that millions of dollars are laundered every year through online gambling, while some disreputable websites have been accused of serving as fronts for criminal operations. Fraudsters, posing as casino brands, have been known to exploit players by withholding funds and lifting card details.
Check out our online safety section for information about protecting yourself online.
It’s not just the players that are vulnerable. Cybercriminals posing as players have used online gambling and bonuses to launder ‘dirty’ money through internet transactions. To prevent these abuses, online casinos require players to email scans of their passports to corroborate with their banking details.
Leading gambling law firms
The only law firm in the City Of London that specialises in providing services to the gaming and leisure industry. Established in 2004, it has been annually top ranked by Chambers UK and the Legal 500.
Eminent practitioners – Julian Harris, John Hagan, Bahar Alaeddini, Melanie Ellis
Based in London but with considerable global reach, Pinsent Masons is ranked among the UK’s top 15 law firms. Its gambling team is experienced in all aspects of international gaming law.
Eminent practitioners – Diane Mullenex, Frederic Ichay
Cuatrecasas, Gonçalves Pereira
Overview – One of the top law firms on the Iberian Peninsula, the Barcelona-based Cuatrecasas is a business law firm with a speciality in gambling law.
Eminent practitioners – Salvador Del Rey, Albert Agustinoy, Rafael Catala
Lewis Roca Rothgerber
Among the largest law firms in the Western US. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, but with a thriving office in Las Vegas, Nevada, peopled by lawyers experienced in gaming and leisure.
Eminent practitioners – Tony Roca, Karl Rutledge, Glenn Light
Crowe & Dunlevy
Being based in Oklahoma, a state founded for Native Americans, Crowe & Dunlevy is the natural home of the Indian Law & Gaming Practice Group, a sizeable string to the firm’s bow given that First Nations casinos generate billions of dollars annually.
Eminent practitioners – D Michael McBride III, Jimmy Goodman, Susan E Huntsman, Adam Childers
Varela & Fonseca Abogados
The head offices might be in Peru, but you can rest assured that, if there is a gambling issue that needs resolving in Latin America, Varela & Fonseca Abogados will be involved in some capacity.
Eminent practitioners – Jaime Varela, Carlos Fonesca Sarmiento, Ingrid Escobar, Ruben Vicuna
Barnea & Co.
Overview – The leading Israeli law firm has a powerful gaming wing specialising in internet gambling, binary options, licensing and lotteries.
Eminent practitioners – Doltan Baruch
Mishcon De Reya
With offices on either side of the Atlantic, the firm prides itself on its ground-breaking work in gambling and internet gaming, having entered the arena back in 2000.
Eminent lawyers – Susan Breen
Jones Walker’s New Orleans operation is the largest gaming practice in the South Eastern United States. Particularly strong in the areas of casino and video poker law and tribal gaming.
Eminent practitioners – J Kelly Duncan, Thomas B Shepherd III, Marc W Dunbar
With so many online casinos licensed in Malta, Chetcuti Cauchi is a leading light in an important market. Gaming compliance law is also a particularly strong suit.
Eminent practitioners – Maria Chetcuti Cauchi, Silvana Zammit, Jean-Philippe Chetcuti
An award-winning offshore firm, Carey Olsen is a big name in such key gaming locations as the British Virgin Islands, Jersey, Alderney, and the Cayman Islands.
Eminent lawyers – James Mulholland, Robert Milner, Simon Marks, Ben Myers