A Brief History Of UK Gambling Laws

  • Updated
  • By Katie Thompson
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Like many traditional customs and laws of the land, UK gambling has seen its fair share of changes in legislation over the years. 

Nowadays we’re probably more used to having a bet on the horses or playing slots on our phones – but that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, UK gambling dates back to the 11th Century, when it was largely a class-based pursuit, with monarchs deciding who could and couldn’t gamble.

It then became more popular in the 16th Century, when Queen Elizabeth I approved the first National Lottery, providing new chances for all social classes.

Incredibly, it wasn’t until three centuries later that regulations on UK gambling were formally introduced. Here’s a look back at how things have changed for UK gambling laws from the 19th century to today.

The Gaming Act 1845

The Gaming Act received royal assent (approval from the monarch to be passed as law) on August 8, 1845.

In an effort to discourage people from gambling, the law was set out to make wagers unenforceable by legal contract. Basically, anybody providing gambling services such as croupiers would no longer have any legal support to charge a sum if players were to lose.

“Unlawful” games

The law would affect any “cards, dice, balls, counters, tables or other instruments of gaming used in playing any unlawful game”.  

Note the use of the term “unlawful game” – the law also made changes to the rather outdated Unlawful Games Act, which deemed games of skill, like tennis or bowls, “unlawful”! 

The Act was pretty strict – in fact, there was even a clause which stated: “Commissioners of Police may authorise Superintendent and Constables to enter Gaming Houses and seize all Instruments of Gaming and take into Custody all Persons found therein.” Thank goodness things have changed!

This would not come around quickly, however, and UK gambling would remain largely unchanged for the next 100 or so years. 

Then came the Swinging Sixties. 

The Betting and Gaming Act 1960

Save for a brief change in the law to discourage people from street betting in 1906, post-war Britain was still living under strict gambling laws. That was all about to change in 1960, and one year later, keen bookmakers would open their doors to betting shops up and down the country.

It all started 10 years earlier when the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming, 1949-51, published renewed recommendations for UK gaming. The papers were an examination of the law and practices on lotteries, betting and gaming.

Following this review, the new Act set out to “permit cash betting either by post or in person”. It also stated that offices must be licensed under section 4 of the Act.

Combating loopholes

After betting shops began opening their doors in 1961, UK gambling laws would go through a series of changes during the 60s. In 1963 and 1968, licences were introduced for other forms of gaming, but these soon became a cover for criminal activity.

Soon came the 70s, and with them, tougher laws to combat this criminal activity. A new Gaming Act brought about stricter controls on licences for bingo and slot machines, which would now be under the control of the Gaming Board – reporting directly to the Home Office.

The Gambling Act 2005

By the noughties, with the internet thriving, new revisions to UK gambling laws came into play. 

While considerations for criminal activity were still the top priority, they also set out new rules for fairness. Notably, vulnerable people and children were also acknowledged.

Remote gambling

The Act also introduced the term “remote gambling”, which refers to the internet, telephone, television, radio or any other kind of communicative device. 

One key improvement in this Act was internet gaming. For the first time, online gambling would now be regulated, meaning that online gambling providers would now be under the same licensing rules as their brick-and-mortar equivalents.

Perhaps the most important change, however, was the introduction of the Gambling Commission.

The Gambling Commission 

The Gambling Commission was established to regulate and supervise gaming law in Great Britain, taking over from the former Gaming Board for Great Britain.

The Commission lists its duties as “promoting the licensing objectives” for gambling in Great Britain and is also committed to regular updates on these objectives. It took over officially in 2007 to monitor arcades, slot machines, casinos, lotteries and general betting.

By 2013, the Commission was responsible for regulating the National Lottery, but there were more developments set to come into play the following year.

The Gambling Licensing and Advertising Act 2014 

As the name suggests, this relatively recent Act set out to ensure that remote gambling operators, who had located their equipment offshore, were still licensed under the supervision of the Gambling Commission.

Previously, gambling operators only needed a licence if they had at least one piece of equipment in Great Britain. However, for all companies whose services are available in Britain, a licence is now required, regardless of whether or not they have equipment here.

The changes caused quite a stir among gambling operators, particularly with the introduction of a 15% tax on all profits generated from UK customers.

However, the developments have been hailed as extremely positive for customers, particularly as they now promote testing, crime reporting and education on problem gambling.

What you should know as a customer

It’s hard to keep track of all these changes, but the most important thing to look out for is strict adherence to licensing laws. Many operators with services in the UK are based abroad, so look out for information on the website footer, which should state the Gambling Commission number clearly.

The Gambling Commission ensures fair playing practices thanks to Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice, which stamp out corruption and illegal activity. It also protects vulnerable players and works with government bodies such as HMRC to continuously review best practices.

Remember – have fun, and always play safe!