The History of the UK Gambling Commission and How the Laws Evolved

The history of gambling in the UK long predates the United Kingdom itself. Records have established that gambling was popular as far back as the 12th century, under the famous King Richard the Lionheart.

How exactly did gambling in the British Isles survive for so many centuries until today, where anyone can launch up an online casino and start gambling? The history of gambling is a tumultuous one. The nation has prohibited gambling many times throughout history for reasons ranging from wealth gaps to religion

Minimizing the harm to players, that’s what today’s gambling laws are for. During the latest round of debates on the Gambling Act 2005 in Parliament, John Whittingdale, the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, summarized it simply: “We want the millions of people who choose to gamble in Britain to be able to do so in a safe way.”

The History of Gambling up to the Modern Day

Throughout most of the Middle Ages, gambling was a commonplace activity in the British Isles. It was technically illegal for the lower-class folk to gamble, but people hardly paid attention to or enforced this rule.

For the nobility, the gambling games of choice included cards, chess, horse races and a particular game called Fox and Geese. Normal people played games of dice that later evolved to craps or bet on sporting events.

The first instance of an official, legal ban on gambling was in 1541 when the Parliament passed the Unlawful Games Act. Ostensibly, it was to prevent the loss of crucial cultural skills such as Archery, as they believed young people would be too busy gambling to hone their skills.

Similar laws were passed throughout the 18th century to further cut down underground and non-traditional forms of gambling. None of them was particularly effective and gambling continued to be a popular activity.

Throughout the 19th century and early 20th century, laws alternatively restricted and opened up various forms of gambling, ranging from ‘games of skill’ like Poker to Sports Betting. For the latter, Horse Races, Greyhound Races, Football, Cricket and Rugby were particularly popular.

The first step toward modern gambling laws was the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960. It legalized casinos and gambling establishments and virtually eliminated underground gambling overnight.

Establishing the UK Gambling Commission 

The United Kingdom Gambling Commission

In 2005, the last major gambling law was passed. The Gambling Act was passed to regulate the new issues that had begun to arise in the 80s and 90s after Gambling became mostly legal.

One of the major issues was gambling addiction. According to the Center for Social Justice, in 2000 the percentage of the adult population suffering from problem gambling in the UK was under 1%. However, more recent research has shown that the number has risen to nearly 3% over the years. It is likely that if measures had not been taken in the last two decades, that percentage would be much higher.

Under the provisions of the Gambling Act 2005, a regulatory body mus license and regulate all gambling and betting in the UK – the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC). This applies to both physical casinos and online casinos.

What does the UKGC do?

First and foremost, the UK Gambling Commission acts as a regulator. They ensure that all casinos in the country are operating above board and complying with the laws. The UKGC fines and punishes black market casinos harshly.

 A casino must fulfil several criteria before the UKGC issues a license. These criteria include fairness, security and other matters. They also have a partnership with a responsible gaming organization.

All casinos based in the UK must be partnered with GamCare in order to offer responsible gambling practices and tools to their players. These tools help prevent gambling addiction or overspending. They include playtime limits, spending warnings and spending limits. While they are not the perfect solution, the adoption of these practices dramatically reduced problem gambling.

Online Gambling in the Present

The UK Gambling Commission originally drafted the Gambling Act 2005 and put it into action. Back then land-based casinos dominated the UK. There were only a handful of online casinos available to US customers. Since then, the number of online casinos has exploded massively. Most casinos offer their games in mobile form, letting people gamble anywhere and anytime.

According to William Hill’s Director Jamie Hart, there are 3.7 million people a year using a desktop or mobile phone to gamble. So it’s clearly visible that the appetite for mobile gaming has never been stronger. William Hill is one of the UK’s biggest online gambling properties.

In 2021, discussion began regarding an expansion of the Gambling Act 2005. Any amendments would focus on online and mobile gambling as the new issue to tackle.

If you want to learn more about the history of gambling, get in touch with us. We have a team of experts waiting to tell you all about it.

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