Practically everyone enjoys a flutter every now and again, whether it’s a night at the casino or putting a couple of pounds into a Grand National sweepstake or perhaps buying the occasional lottery ticket. It’s also true to say that the UK is something of a gambling heartland. Betting has been legal here far longer than it has in many places. While the likes of the US are still finding their feet, the UK has a mature and robust regulatory system that protects the interests of both the gambling providers and their customers.
These days, gambling is more popular and more accessible than ever, and that is entirely thanks to the internet. Casinos and bookmakers operate in an industry that is thriving and seeing increasing turnover with every passing year. Naturally, that makes it a popular target for new entrants, and it is far easier to create and launch a virtual casino or bookmaker than it is to set one up from scratch in the real world.
However, that mature and robust regulatory framework we mentioned means that there is more involved than just getting the software, coming up with a brand name and going live. The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) regulates all gambling activity in the UK, and since 2005, this has also included online betting. In most of the world, the regulatory bodies are still debating what to do about online casinos and sportsbooks, and they remain unregulated, so the fact that the UKGC has had web-based gambling within its remit for more than 15 years speaks volumes.
Who needs a licence?
There are four different types of licence, three of which are issued by the UKGC (an operating licence, a personal functional licence and a personal management licence). The fourth, a premises licence, only applies to gambling businesses that have physical premises and is issued by the local authority. Instead of a premises licence, web-based operators need a remote licence.
Of course, the internet has no concept of international borders. As far as the UKGC is concerned, a remote licence is needed for any gambling business that specifically markets its services to UK consumers, for example by advertising in UK media, regardless of whether it is based in the UK or offshore. However, offshore providers that do not specifically target UK customers do not need a license – even if people in the UK seek them out and choose to use their services.
The other interesting area to consider with online gambling is affiliates. Now the affiliate business is huge, but the UKGC has always said that affiliates themselves do not need to be licensed as their activities are the responsibility of the licensee they are representing. The message here is clear – if you are a licensed operator, you need to be aware that the rules must be followed by your affiliates as well. If you take a look at sites that promote no deposit bonuses such as https://www.nodepositexplorer.com/, you can see they clearly display the significant terms and conditions that are attached to any and every bonus that is shown.
Being licensed is not just about holding your own business to account. It also means playing a role in maintaining the integrity of the UK’s gambling industry, identifying problem behaviour and driving positive change. As a result, licensees have various reporting obligations that they have to meet each year.
We will not go through these in detail here, but in brief, they include such areas as anti money laundering (AML), complaints handling, protecting customer funds, self-exclusion programmes, security breaches and suspicious betting patterns.
Of all these, the AML requirements are particularly strict, as casinos and bookmakers have a history of being used in organised crime for money laundering purposes. Remote licensees that operate across multiple jurisdictions have additional reporting obligations under the Money Laundering Regulations (2007).
What does it cost?
Maintaining a UK gambling licence requires more than completing the right reports and ensuring the affiliates behave themselves. There is also the small matter of an annual licensing fee. The amount depends on the type of business, the gambling activities it provides and the annual turnover. The UKGC provides an online calculator so each business can work out what its licensing fees will be, but to give an idea, a remote bookmaker that provides horse race betting between £0.5 million and £5 million per annum need to pay an annual licensing fee of just over £7,000.
Once an operator is licensed, that licence lasts indefinitely as long as the annual fee is paid and provided the UKGC does not have cause to revoke or suspend it due to non-compliance.
Obtaining a UK gambling licence is not easy in the sense of being something you can take for granted. However, the rules are clear and are applied with logic and consistency. It’s little wonder that the UK framework is one that is often used as a benchmark as other nations look to improve their regulation of online gambling.