Safety is paramount when it comes to online casinos. You want to know that your information is secure, that the games you’re playing are fair and that your interests are protected, but how can you be sure of this? There’s only one answer to that question: play at licensed UK casinos. TopRatedCasinos.co.uk only ever recommends licensed UK online casinos on our carefully selected top casinos lists, so you can rest easy when you pick your casino through us. Want to learn more about casino gambling licences? Check out our beginner’s guide to casino licences for the all-important information.
Beginner’s guide to gambling licences
Every country around the world governs gambling in different ways. Whereas some outlaw it completely, others rely on gambling as a vital part of the economy. Generally, in gambling-friendly countries such as the UK, online and land-based casinos must hold a gambling licence, issued by a governing body, to operate legally.
From ensuring fair gaming to promoting responsible gambling, there’s a wide range of advantages to playing at licensed sites. But how are these licences regulated, and how do you know if a casino is licensed? Let’s find out.
What do gambling licences do?
Before an online casino is granted a gambling licence it must prove that it can meet the licensing body’s standard for fairness, security and responsibility. Here’s a little more detail on how this works exactly.
The prevention of gambling-related crimes is one of the main aims of licensing bodies. As a result, it’s a requirement for licensed operators to put security measures, such as industry standard data encryption, in place to prevent hacking. This means that you can rest assured that your information is safe when you head to the banking page to make deposits and withdrawals at UK licensed casino sites.
In the UK, every casino with a gambling licence is obliged to perform a Know Your Customer (KYC) check to confirm the identity of its players before verifying their account. While some sites will search records to do this, in other cases players might need to send proof of identification to confirm their identity. This proves to the casino that you are who you say you are and also helps prevent underage gambling. Online casinos also monitor account activity to look out for any suspicious financial movements and block suspected money laundering.
Regulatory bodies don’t just license online casinos, but software developers like NetEnt and Microgaming too. This is because most games you play online including slots, roulette and blackjack use RNG (random number generator) software to determine the outcome of spins or deals. If you’re playing games developed by licensed software suppliers, you can rest safe in the knowledge that they’re fair and the odds are what you’re told.
This means that every time licensed developers and operators release new slots you can be sure that they’re properly tested, fair, and that the RTP (return to player) is accurate. The same goes for live dealer games, which are controlled by dealers rather than RNG technology. If you’re playing at a licensed casino site, the dealers and croupiers in these games are all specially trained and unbiased and all equipment, such as roulette wheels, is tested for fairness.
The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) also sets out technical standards for online casino software, as well as guidelines for the testing of games. As well as pre-release testing, licence holders are required to complete post-release performance monitoring as well as annual audits. Testing is carried out by independent bodies such as eCOGRA and GLI.
An important feature of casino licences is that sites must have player protection measures in place to help prevent and combat underage and problem gambling. For example, licensed casinos offer players the option of self-exclusion, which blocks access to your account for a set period of time anywhere from a few months to several years.
Regulated sites offer a variety of other account settings to help manage your gambling. This includes time outs, allowing users to restrict themselves from gambling for a shorter period of time, as well as deposit and loss limits to prevent players spending or losing more than they can afford.
On top of that, gambling authorities set standards to which online online casinos must adhere when dealing with customer complaints or disputes. Licensed UK casinos must appoint an independent alternative dispute resolution (ADR) body to help settle disputes between players and operators and ensure winnings are properly paid out.
Governingbodies also work closely will gambling charities. The UK Gambling Commission, for example, sets fundraising targets for the casino industry to ensure operators are contributing to the research and treatment of problem gambling.
Gambling authorities are also responsible for regulating gambling-related adverts and marketing to ensure operators advertise their services and promotions responsibly and truthfully. These standards prevent licensed casino operators from targeting problem gamblers, minors or other vulnerable people in their advertisements. This is why you often see the phrase ‘when the fun stops, stop’ on UK gambling adverts.
Under new UK advertising guidelines, gambling adverts must not use language that creates a sense of urgency during live events, such as by using phrases like “Bet Now!”. As well as this, any bonus terms and conditions must be easily accessible and understandable, and UK licensed operators must not encourage repetitive play or promote financial motivations for gambling.
UK gambling operators must also comply with the advertising guidelines set out by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA). The ASA rules against exploiting cultural or traditional beliefs about gambling, condoning gambling in working environments, and not promoting gambling as a form of escapism as part of its guidelines.
How do I know if a casino is licensed?
Licensed UK casinos are obliged to display the logos of the gambling authorities at the footer of their web pages, so they’re easy to spot. You’ll also be able to find the operator’s licence number in the footer. Licensed UK casinos must also link to the UKGC licence register so that you can easily see what forms of gambling they’re licensed to offer, as well as any previous sanctions. Alternatively, you can search for licensees on governing bodies’ websites.
What are the risks of unlicensed casinos?
Unlicensed sites are a no-go for any casino player. For starters, there’s no regulatory authority to help you with issues or disputes if you were to have a problem. So if you landed a win and the casino refused to pay out, you’d have a serious job on your hands getting them to cough up. On top of that, there’s no way of checking that games aren’t rigged, which means your chances of winning could be worse than advertised.
It’s also likely that unlicensed casinos won’t have the same security measures in place as regulated operators, which could make both your personal and financial details vulnerable to potential fraud and hacking. Furthermore, unlicensed sites aren’t obliged to comply with ASA rules, which could mean adverts aren’t always responsible or truthful. In combination with potentially insufficient player protection measures, this could encourage problem gambling. Crimes, such as money laundering, may also be more of a problem at unlicensed casinos, simply because there is no one to monitor funds in detail.
Gambling Licence Authorities
Most gambling-friendly countries have a governing body dedicated to licensing gambling operators and monitoring licensees’ activity. Let’s check out which authorities regulate the best UK casinos.
UK Gambling Commission
Founded in 2007, the UK Gambling Commission licenses casinos, sportsbooks, lotteries and software developers that provide gambling services to UK players. It was created through the introduction of the Gambling Act 2005, which regulated online gambling for the first time.
Only companies that hold a UKGC gambling licence can legally offer online betting services in the UK. The Commission ensures that online casinos remain crime free, maintain social responsibility, have high technical standards and provide accurate data reports. It also sets guidelines for how casinos handle complaints and disputes.
The Gambling Commission plays a big role in promoting responsible gambling in the UK, working closely with major charities such as GamCare. It also helps operate the national self-exclusion scheme which people can register for in order to prevent them accessing all gambling sites that have signed up to the scheme. All licensed UK casinos will eventually be required to sign up by the UKGC.
Malta Gaming Authority
Known as the MGA, the Malta Gaming Authority was founded in 2001 and became one of the first governing bodies to regulate online gambling. Malta is a major gambling hub, with 12% of the country’s GDP generated by the industry, and the MGA issues casino licences to many major gambling operators and software developers.
While all legal UK casinos must have a UKGC gambling licence, MGA is the most common secondary licence found at UK casino sites, as well as sportsbooks, bingos, lotteries and gaming software developers.
Like the UKGC, the MGA regulates online casinos to ensure that gambling remains fair, crime-free, safe and responsible. It also works with gambling charities, having helped launch the Responsible Gaming Foundation in 2014, as well as the European Gaming Institute of Malta which helps to train and educate individuals and businesses in the gambling sector.
Other licensing bodies
The UKGC and MGA are by far the most significant licensing bodies for gambling operators in the UK market, though you may see that certain online casinos and software developers hold casino licences from other authorities. These include:
Founded in 2000, the AGCC regulates online gambling for Alderney, one of the Channel Islands. Alderney is recognised as a world leader when it comes to online gambling regulation, so you know a site with an AGCC licence is reliable and well respected.
The Isle of Man Commission was established all the way back in 1962 and regulates land-based and remote gambling. It became one of the first jurisdictions to introduce legislation designed to both benefit operators and protect players through the Online Gambling Regulation Act 2001.
The Gibraltar Gambling Commission licenses operators under the Gambling Act 2005 to ensure fair and safe egaming. Like Alderney and the Isle of Man, Gibraltar is a popular destination for operators and developers due to its active promotion of gambling and low taxes.
While the UKGC license is specific to the UK, many sites also hold licences from these authorities as they allow casinos to operate in a range of different countries. It’s common for operators to start with an MGA licence— because it’s easier to attain and has lower tax rates—, potentially tapping into more tightly regulated markets, such as the UK or Sweden, once they’re better established.
Play it safe online
Playing at licensed casino sites is the only way to guarantee security, fair gaming and player protection when you play casino games online. Look out for governing body logos, as well as licensee numbers, to be certain you’re playing at a reputable and regulated site. If you’re looking for the UK’s best licensed casino sites, take a look at our lists of top online casinos. Our team of experts have picked out the best sites for playing online roulette, blackjack, slots and other casino games, so you can rest assured that you’re in safe hands.
Frequently asked questions
Are all online casinos licensed?
No. Unlicensed online casinos do exist, and we would always advise to avoid them. After all, with so many great licensed sites on the market, playing at unlicensed sites just isn’t worth the risk. Check out our casino reviews for the lowdown on everything from banking to bonuses at the best and safest UK sites.
Are unlicensed casino sites illegal?
Yes. In the UK, it is illegal for an operator to offer gambling services without a UK Gambling Commission licence. This means that even if an offshore site holds a valid overseas gambling license, it still needs a UKGC license to operate legally in the UK.
What should I do if I suspect an online casino is operating illegally?
If you come across an unlicensed casino operating in the UK, you can report it to the Gambling Commission. You can also contact the UKGC if you have concerns regarding gambling-related criminal activity and underage gambling.
What happens if an operator doesn’t comply with licensing regulations?
The Gambling Commission will take regulatory action if an operator is found to be in breach of the UKGC licence conditions and codes of practice (LCCP). Operators may be subject to warnings, suspensions, licence revocation and financial penalties, depending on the offence. You can check for an operator’s sanction history by searching the UKGC licensee register.
Are land-based casinos licensed in the same way as casino sites?
All UK gambling operators have the same responsibilities, but there are separate licences for online or remote gambling, land-based casino games, sports betting, lotteries and so on. Each licence covers industry-specifics, such as the standards for an online roulette game compared to a fixed odds betting terminal. Whether you’re gambling online or at land-based venues, choosing a licensed operator means you can benefit from the same safety and fair play protocols.
Alan is a staff writer at TopRatedCasinos.co.uk. He covers all areas of the online casino industry, from the newest slot releases to the latest live dealer technology. Alan is also a fan of sports betting, and spends most of his spare time watching and reading about football.
Danielle is a staff writer at TopRatedCasinos.co.uk. She contributes to all things casino, from our ‘how to play’ guides to tips on finding the best sites for your favourite casino games. Danielle also has experience writing about sports betting, covering a diverse range of sports including rugby and Formula One.