The Influence Of Laws On UK Poker

Andrew Collinson

By Andrew Collinson

Legal Expert

UK Online Poker Laws

While the topic of poker in the US has been something of a legal minefield in recent years, the good news for players in the UK is that poker, both live and online, is perfectly legal at licensed venues.

As these venues are required to obtain a license from the Gambling Commission in order to offer any form of real money poker, you can rest assured that they are both reputable and financially accountable for players’ funds. That means you’ll never be left high and dry by a shady operator.

What’s more, you are also legally allowed to play poker with your friends providing the game takes place in a private dwelling and no fee is charged and at public houses for limited prize amounts. As poker falls under the umbrella category of gambling, you’ll also never be taxed on any winnings.

In 2024, UK poker players can enjoy:

  • Legal live poker in a licensed cardroom or casino
  • Play in pubs and members' clubs to maximum legal stakes
  • Enjoy totally free and regulated poker online for real money

The Betting and Gaming Act 1960

All of this makes playing poker in the UK very safe and easy, but that hasn’t always been the case.

The Betting and Gaming Act 1960 was first intended to outlaw commercial gaming and allow only private gaming.

This meant that games in which all players had an equal chance of winning (i.e. where they were not playing against a house edge or banker) were deemed expressly legal.

However, a piece of disastrous wording in the bill saw equal chance amended to "equally favourable chance", thereby unwittingly providing justification for games in which the banker held the edge [1].

As a result, despite the Act’s initial intentions to outlaw commercial gaming, it actually had the opposite effect and gambling establishments mushroomed, with criminal activity soon following.

The Gaming Act 1968

Given the failure of the original Betting and Gaming Act, things had to change in the UK.

In 1968 the Gaming Act was passed and introduced the concept of licensing and registration by local licensing magistrates on conditions that could be enforced by the police.

The industry would also be regulated by the Gaming Board, who could object to licenses being issued or maintained if they felt an operator was not up to scratch, thus paving the way for the Gambling Commission’s role in modern legislation.

Another key area of the Act was to prevent any advertising for casinos, thereby ensuring venues were only there to fulfil "unstimulated demand"[2].

The upshot of the revised Act was that the number of casinos in the UK dropped to 125 and those that did still operate were only allowed to do so in permitted areas around London and the UK.

The 2005 Gambling Act

Gambling in the UK remained much the same for the next few decades until the introduction of the Gambling Act in 2005.

This brand-new Act, brought in by the Labour government, transferred the authority for licensing gambling from magistrates to local authorities and also ushered in the new UK Gambling Commission.

Of perhaps more significance to the poker playing public were provisions for individuals and specific premises to hold gambling licenses, which saw pub poker grow. The Act also specifically regulated online gambling for the first time. It allowed sites based in approved "whitelisted" jurisdictions like the Isle of Man and Alderney to advertise their services to the public [3].

Despite being widely considered a successful update on the Gaming Act of 1968, the new Act did cause some controversy. The development of eight "supercasinos" around the UK was swiftly downgraded (to just one, in Manchester) and poker remained a side event played in existing casinos.

The 2014 Gambling (Advertising and Licensing) Act

The most recent update to gambling legislature in the UK was the introduction of the 2014 Gambling and Advertising Licensing Bill.

This new Act required all companies wishing to transact with or advertise to customers in the UK to obtain an operating license from the UK Gambling Commission.

While this had little impact on the majority of UK-based operators, it was slightly different for offshore companies based in previously white-listed jurisdictions like Gibraltar and the Isle of Man.

Many of these companies baulked at the introduction of a new 15 percent tax on all gaming duty taken from UK customers and ceased their operations in the country. However, those that did stick around were effectively forced to migrate their existing UK players to UK-only platforms or partner sites.

This saw the reduction of the total number of online gambling brands operating in the UK and the rise of UK-only poker sites.

Additionally, sites already operating within the UK had to apply for an updated or continuation license from the Gambling Commission that allowed them to keep offering services.


These pages may also interest you