How the UK regulates sports betting

In Britain, gambling isn’t just a leisure activity but a heavily regulated industry that’s been interwoven into the nation’s cultural and economic landscape.

As an industry worth £14 billion a year (and counting), this meticulous regulation serves several vital functions, not least to ensure complete transparency, fairness to consumers, and the combating of illegal activities, but much more, too. And with gambling more widely accessible and even more popular than ever, implementing a safe space to enjoy betting has never been more important

However, in order to understand the regulations surrounding sports betting, we must first delve into the gambling regulatory system as a whole, beginning with the all-important legislation covering gambling in the country.

Just over 6 million of us here in the United Kingdom enjoy betting in at least one form. And central to UK betting regulations is the Gambling Act 2005. This Act, which applies to England, Wales and Scotland, does not merely provide a legal structure; it emphasises the country’s commitment to balancing the thrill of gambling with stringent oversight. Initially, the legislation operated under a point-of-supply framework, aka those brick-and-mortar casinos that operated in Great Britain.

However, with the emergence of the ever-evolving digital landscape and, thus, the need for a more comprehensive approach, the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 ushered in a shift to a point-of-consumption regime. This change mandated online gambling operators, irrespective of their geographical location, to secure a license from the UK Gambling Commission if they intended to cater to British patrons.

The UK Gambling Commission is the authoritative body entrusted with the mammoth task of overseeing the gambling landscape throughout England, Wales and Scotland. The Commission serves as the linchpin, issuing licenses, meticulously monitoring compliance, and overseeing the industry to ensure operators adhere to a series of stringent standards and protocols.

The Gambling Commission also shoulders the overarching responsibility with local authorities who are responsible for granting premises licenses and ensuring everyone – from bustling casinos in the big cities to high street betting stores – operates within the well-defined legal parameters.

Sports betting operates under a robust regulatory umbrella designed to preserve the sanctity of sporting events, protect consumers, and, ultimately, maintain the industry’s integrity.

Sports betting operators in the UK are faced with a rigorous licensing regime controlled by the commission. This licensing mandate serves as a bulwark against unsavoury, nefarious, or outright illegal practices, meaning operators have to navigate their way through processes that include, but certainly aren’t limited to: demonstrating financial solvency; showcasing their complete commitment to responsible gambling practices and protocols; upholding fairness and transparency to thwart match-fixing, insider betting; and other activities that threaten the very spirit of sportsmanship.

To help maintain the “fun” emphasis of sports betting, regulations are in place to enforce affordability checks by operators in an effort to ensure that players do not gamble beyond their means. This includes scrutinising the income and spending of new users, whether online or in person. Players are empowered to set deposit limits, with operators restricted from incessantly prompting increases. Moreover, rigorous age verification processes are set in place to ensure only adults can gamble.

When it comes to advertising, a whistle-to-whistle ban is in place throughout England, Scotland and Wales which has led to a stop in promotions before and during live sports events. In 2022, it was revealed by The Committee for Advertising Practice that footballers, celebrities and social media influencers would be banned from gambling adverts under new rules.

Furthermore, technical controls are enhanced with the introduction of maximum stake limits for specific online sports betting, helping to curb potential rapid losses. Gambling platforms must ensure a safe online community with advanced technical features to prevent fraud and potential data breaches.

If sports betting shops, online or otherwise, fail in any part of this strict criteria, the Gambling Commission wields enforcement powers which can lead to intense investigations and sanctions for any form of regulatory infringement.

When it comes to licensing and regulation, the Commission has the legal power to refuse to grant a licence if they have concerns about the operator’s suitability or compliance with the Gambling Act 2005. The Commission can also attach conditions to betting shop licences to address specific concerns or risks. For example, they might require a shop to limit the number of gaming machines it can have. The authority even has the power to carry out unannounced inspections of betting shops to check that they are complying with their licence conditions and the Gambling Act.

When it comes to enforcement, the Gambling Commission can fine betting shops for breaches of the Act or their licence conditions. The fines can be very large, running into millions of pounds in some cases. One of the most recent fines involved The Entain Group, which received a £17 million penalty in August 2022 for social responsibility and anti-money laundering failures at its online and land-based businesses.

The Commission can go even further if it deems an offence to be serious enough. In certain circumstances, it can suspend or even completely cancel the registration of a betting establishment if it is not being operated safely and responsibly.

And, when it comes to the most serious offences, it can seek to prosecute individuals for offences under the Gambling Act.