Non UK Casinos – The Internet Technology vs. The UK State

The debate over legalised gambling is one with deep roots, both in the United Kingdom and across the world. While some countries continue to outlaw gambling in general, for political, religious or cultural reasons, history shows us that gambling activities persist even in societies where such things are illegal.

Yet in the UK we have an extremely long tradition of legal gambling, with High Street bookmakers up and down the country offering ready betting opportunities to all adults of legal age. These businesses have always been highly regulated, but now with the advent and growth of a borderless online world, can online gambling be regulated in the same way?

It's a debate that centres around the notion of personal responsibility and regulatory protection. The United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) is the regulator responsible for the online gambling industry in the UK, and it has earned a reputation as one of the most stringent such regulators in the world, imposing a raft of expensive measures on all its licensees in order to protect the vulnerable from the dangers of gambling addiction.

But this runs contrary to many similar movements across the world, which are prioritising personal responsibility and freedom over state intervention. Look at the way marijuana is being legalised in a seemingly ever-increasing group of countries, placing more responsibility for safe use on its users themselves.

In 2021, as Britain continues to work towards a new post-pandemic and post-Brexit future, the UKGC is at a fork in the road. In one direction lies an even more highly regulated landscape, with UK operators forced to take steps to effectively put users off using their services; in the other lies a society where individuals are afforded greater freedoms to do as they see fit.

An Internet Without Limits Opens for Non UK Casinos

The number one issue facing the UKGC in its efforts to protect British punters is the existence of non UK casinos. These are, by definition, online casinos that are not licensed by the UKGC, and as a result they do not pay fees for their (non-existent) UKGC licence and pay no UK tax on revenue generated from within the UK.

This is only an issue because these non UK casino sites continue to be available for UK players. What's more, one of the chief reasons the UKGC exerts such control over its licensees – to protect vulnerable players – goes out the window when a UK punter plays or bets at a non UK casino site. These sites have far fewer responsible gaming tools available to their users, allow for larger deposits and more generous bonuses to go with them, and are not required to introduce any of the 'spoiling' tactics the UKGC demands of its licensees (such as enforced delays between slots spins, slower spinning reels, or smaller bonuses).

One other concern relating to responsible gaming surrounds Gamstop, the UK industry-wide organisation that allows UK punters to self-exclude from all licensed sites with one step.

Gamstop – Useful to some extent but...

Gamstop has helped many players to exert greater control over their gambling, but it's important to note it is a UK-only scheme. UKGC licensees are required to share player data, in order to prevent any customer who has self-excluded from any UKGC site opening a new account or gambling on an existing one.

Non UK casinos do not have access to this data, but are also free of the requirement that Gamstop bans be upheld. This means that any UK player – whether or not they have an active Gamstop ban – is able to play at any non UK casino they can find.

But, you may be asking, how can UK customers find these casinos in the first place? After all, they are not permitted to advertise or market to players in the UK, right?

Non Licensed Casinos in the UK cannot market themselves, however...

It's true: for a non UK casino to directly advertise itself, or market its service to users in the UK, it would be illegal. The UK already has a huge variety of UKGC-licensed operators, which market very aggressively to customers in the UK via TV and other media, as well as sponsorships of football kits, stadia, etc. Non UK casino brands are forbidden from joining the list of highly recognisable names in the UK such as Coral, Ladbrokes or William Hill.

Yet it is actually extremely easy for UK customers to find and join a non UK casino. All it takes is a quick look in any search engine to find a long list of different non UK casinos. Numerous comparison sites are also available, giving potential customers the run-down on the best non UK casino sites to join for bigger bonuses, unlimited deposits and even new games.

How can Licensed Casinos Compete with non UK licensed ones?

So on the one hand we have licensed UKGC casino sites, which are bound by the terms of their licences to limit certain elements like bonuses and deposits, as well as impose restrictions to affect gameplay like slower reels or lower maximum stakes. On the other we have non UK casinos, which are free from all these restrictions.

While it's untrue to say that non UK casinos aren't safe places to play, it is undeniable that a UKGC licence indicates an extremely high level of customer service, player security and transparency. Licensed UK casinos, therefore, have the advantage of offering greater peace of mind, as well as the familiarity that comes from being established names in a busy market. They're also sometimes able to offer licensed slots games that may not be available elsewhere.

But that's really all these licensed UK sites have going for them, when compared with the non UK casino sites. The latter are free from the 'spoiler' measures imposed on UK casinos, so are likely to attract casino players through a fundamentally more attractive offering.

For the UKGC-licensed casinos to compete, something is clearly going to have to change.

Impossible to shut down non UK casino sites – make it better for UK licensed ones instead?

Some may argue that shutting down non UK casino sites, or limiting access to them from within the UK, would be the way to address the issues presented by these sites. Yet the appetite for internet censorship in the UK is weak, and for good reason. Internet freedom is a badge of honour for civilised nations, and outright bans of this nature do not go down well with voters. Besides, these sites have a right to do business – consider if a government in South America wanted to close down British casino sites because citizens there were using them? It is not a legally or ethically tenable position.

But clearly something needs to happen to help UK casino sites survive against the growing threat of diverse and numerous casino sites, which offer a better playing experience than many of our home-grown brands. And that comes down to the decisions made by the UKGC.

Whichever direction they choose to head towards, they need to do it soon, as non UK casino searches are continuing to trend ever upwards.

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