The Evolution of Casinos in the United Kingdom

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In 2005, gambling activities became legal for UK residents. The Gambling Act 2005 regulates all forms of betting, including the online casino industry. The current regulations are flexible and liberal, allowing the industry to grow and attract more players both in land-based and online casinos.

But how did this all start? The rising popularity of gambling inspired us to look at the beginnings of the industry, when it was highly regulated and not entirely legal. Today, the market is still evolving, mainly into the direction of preventing problem gambling.

Let’s take a journey through the evolution of UK casinos, so we’ll understand the gambling industry a bit better.

How It All Began

Under the English common law, gambling was legal. However, the government started worrying that these activities negatively affected the efficiency of its military training. That’s why it introduced a law that made all forms of gambling illegal: the Unlawful Games Act 1541. It meant that gamblers could not collect any debts through court action. However, this didn’t stop people from playing various gambling games. It only meant that the debts were solved among themselves.

Queen Elizabeth started an efficient money-raising action that was used for repairing harbors: she introduced the first national public lottery in England in 1566. The tickets were sold for four years, and the award was granted in 1569. During the 18th century, the state lottery gained huge popularity.

During the 19th century, the first actual casinos started appearing in the UK. They took the form of membership clubs. The first club was started by the Duke of Wellington on Curzon Street in 1828. Many other establishments followed the same format, so the need for regulation became evident. In 1845, the British government introduced the Gaming Act, which legalized gambling games of skill. It regulated gambling houses in a simple way, and it criminalized cheating. The famous Casino Club Port Talbot in Wales was opened a short time after this act was passed. With time, this club was turned into an entire casino empire.

The Big Step Forward: Gambling Act 2005

The Gambling Act 2005 was introduced as a response to the need of a regulatory body that would control the industry. During the 19th and 20th centuries, casinos were seen as a source of crime and disorder. The activities were relatively regulated, but it wasn’t always conducted in an open and fair way. In addition, vulnerable persons (including children) weren’t protected enough. This Gambling Act covered those aspects, and it introduced the Gambling Commission as an official regulatory body.

The UK Gambling Commission has a few main goals:

  • Making gambling as safe and as fair as possible
  • Protecting players from unfair operators
  • Preventing false and misleading marketing messages
  • Introducing strict regulations and control for age verification procedures

The first online casinos appeared before the Gambling Act was introduced, in 1994. They help offshore licenses, mainly from the Island of Antigua and Barbados. Since the Gambling Commission (UKGK) was formed, it started issuing its own licenses. It enabled secure and fast payout casinos that licensed in the UK, guaranteeing the player’s safety on sites under its regulation. Websites with offshore licenses are still allowed to offer their services to British gamblers. However, UK’s regulatory body cannot guarantee a player’s safety when they use those sites for gambling.

Where’s the Industry Today?

At the moment, the UKGC is focused on supporting gamblers to prevent or treat addictive behaviour. A self-exclusion programme was introduced. It works with the gambler’s agreement to take time off gambling. When they make such an agreement, licensed companies are bound to close their accounts and return the money from the balance to the player’s account.

All licensed premises in the UK participate in the multi-operator scheme of self-exclusion. This includes casinos, bingo premises, bookmakers, and arcades. The player will be excluded from all these premises with a single agreement. As for online self-exclusion, it works through the GAMSTOP programme.

Before the player opts for full exclusion, they can use tools that help them control their habits. For example, they can set limits on gaming machines or take time-outs of 24 hours, one week, one month, or any other period that the gamblers set for themselves. Finally, the self-exclusion programme is fully restrictive. It prevents the gambler from playing in land-based or online casinos for at least six months.

In short, the industry is taking steps forward in making gambling safer for its citizens. The regulations are strict, but fair. The UKGK ensures fair play and a secure environment that’s less likely to lead to addiction.


BIO: Joshua Robinson discovered online gambling three years ago. He developed his own system to prevent addiction: he sets weekly budget limits and never surpasses them. Joshua writes about gambling, sharing his experience with everyone who’s interested.