While many countries are keen to reap the economic rewards of online gaming, in others gambling may have been thought of as ‘sinful’ for hundreds of years. So, as you can imagine, most nations have their own laws covering the relevant legal and regulatory issues.
The world of web-based gaming may be tightly regulated, but it’s also quite hard to monitor, given its relatively anonymous nature. That means that, even in countries where gambling online is illegal, it’s hard to identify players when they log on at home.
It also means that, in a number of countries, not least the US, the status of online gambling as ‘legal’ or otherwise is not always quite as clear-cut as you might have thought.
But it’s worth bearing in mind that, even in nations where gambling online is not legal, although players may be fined small sums, or at worst imprisoned, most governments are more likely to penalise operators and games providers than players.
The waters are perhaps further muddied by the fact that online casinos all have different gaming licenses, allowing them to offer their services to gamblers from different countries.
Countries where online gambling is definitely banned
- Poland (where players are particularly liable to prosecution)
- North Korea
- United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Which countries is online gambling legal in?
The law in the UK was changed in 2003 to keep up with technological advances – previously, these laws dated back to the 1960s.
The then Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said at the time that modern legislation needed to reflect the modern industry, which she described as “diverse, vibrant and innovative…enjoyed in many forms by millions.”
diverse, vibrant and innovative…enjoyed in many forms by millions.
The Labour government of the time introduced a Bill to update the law, and create the UK’s Gambling Commission which replaced the Gambling Board. This prosecutes any parties breaching the guidelines set out in the Bill.
- Ensures no link between crime and gambling
- Protects children and vulnerable adults from harm
- Maintains fair and open gambling across the industry
The Bill also states that gambling is only lawful in the UK where there is a licence, permit or registration. Penalties include fines and a maximum of six months’ imprisonment.
Those under 18 can’t gamble, and you are committing an offence if you knowingly allow young than that to do the same.
To learn more, read Is Gambling Legal in the UK.
In the US, the situation regarding the legality of gambling online can seem complex, and it depends on which of America’s states you are in.
In fact, one recent study found that the US had the world’s most complex gambling legislation.
But while overseas gambling websites may be blocked, players are not generally punished.
Since 2011, individual states have had the power to legalise intrastate online gaming. But out of five inhabited overseas territories and 50 states, just seven have legalised gambling online, and it’s estimated that nearly three-quarters of online casinos globally are not open to players in the States, precisely because of the somewhat complex legal situation.
You won’t be prosecuted for playing via non-US operators. But domestic providers can only take players from the state in which it is registered.
The best advice is to check the law in the state you’re playing in.
Elsewhere in Europe
Most European Union (EU) countries allow some form of online gambling within their borders. And nations can organise their own laws on this, as long as they are compliant with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TEFU).
Some countries allow all games, others only some, such as a casino or poker games. Increasingly, EU nations have set up licensing systems allowing more than one operator to provide services. But, under EU law, no single system is favoured above the others.
There are diverse regulatory frameworks across the EU, but the European Court of Justice has ruled on the compliance of national regulatory frameworks with EU law.
The rest of the world
- Online gambling is generally banned across much of the Middle East
- Australia introduced new laws in 2017 which restricted access to online casinos
As for Asia, laws vary from country to country. Japan has softened its stance, so some believe gambling online could be totally legal by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, Singapore outlawed gambling in 2014. Thailand has banned gambling, but you are unlikely to be prosecuted for playing on a foreign site.
In China, only sports betting (offline) is legal, while Macau has the most relaxed laws. Malaysia and South Korea both have one licenced casino each. In India, the status of online gambling remains unclear, while some states, including Goa, have legalised physical and online casinos.
It’s understandable that you would wish to stay on the right side of the law. If you have concerns, double-check the laws in the country where you’re playing.