A reading list on gambling policy, legislation and reform in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland

Reading Time: 15 minutes

An image showing a set of gambling machines

Gambling in Northern Ireland is currently regulated under the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985 (‘the Order’). The Order is modelled on an older law covering Great Britain that was replaced by the Gambling Act 2005. Unlike Great Britain, Northern Ireland does not have an independent gambling commission.

Based on the findings of a public consultation on the Regulation of Gambling in Northern Ireland conducted in 2019-2020 by the Department for Communities (DfC), the DfC stated that the 1985 Order is:

…outdated and has not kept pace with industry and technological changes, while also being complex and inflexible.

This report stated that nine out of ten respondents supported a regulatory body for gambling in Northern Ireland. In addition, two-thirds of respondents supported a relaxation of opening hours for bookmakers and betting shops towards opening on a Sunday.

The DfC also published the 2016 Northern Ireland Gambling Prevalence Survey, finding that the proportion of the population found to be ‘problem gamblers’ is higher in Northern Ireland than in Wales, Scotland or England.

New legislation has been introduced to amend gambling laws in Northern Ireland (Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill). The Assembly Research and Information Service has just published a bill paper on this. The article presented here outlines legislation on gambling in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, in addition to signposting relevant research and gambling organisations.

Great Britain

Current legislation

The Gambling Act 2005 sets out the regulation of gambling in England, Wales and Scotland. Although, some differences exist in Scotland due to changes in secondary legislation. The 2005 Act covers arcades, betting, bingo, casinos, gaming machines, society lotteries, and remote gambling (including online gambling). In 2014, the 2005 Act was amended to enforce a licensing requirement to all online gambling companies that transacted with customers from England, Scotland and Wales, no matter their location.

There has been a steady shift to online gambling, with the gross gambling yield (the amount staked minus winnings paid out) generated by remote gambling being higher than that of land-based gambling for the first time in September 2019. This occurred whilst there was no marked increase in overall gambling participation. Since the beginning of 2019, the UK Government has further legislated online gambling by tightening the rules on age and identity checks online gambling operators must enforce, banning gambling on credit cards and making it mandatory for online operators to be signed up to GAMSTOP (the national online self-exclusion scheme). In addition, in July 2019, the Government secured a commitment from leading gambling operators to increase their donations to gambling research, education and treatment tenfold.

Proposals for reform

The UK Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) launched a review of the 2005 Act in December 2020, specifically to scrutinise whether the 2005 Act is still fit for the digital age and fit to protect vulnerable groups of society. There was an initial 16 week call for evidence on the following key topics: online protections; advertising, sponsorship, and branding; the Gambling Commission’s powers and resources; consumer redress; age limits and verifications; and land-based gambling, leading to proposals for reform. This ended in March 2021 and received 16,000 responses. Following this, the Government assessed the evidence with the aim of outlining conclusions and any proposals for reform in 2021. There were delays with this next step due to the impact of COVID-19.

In July 2021, the review was debated in parliament. During this, the Minister for Media and Data stated that it is the intention of the Government to publish a White Paper later in 2021 to set out the Government’s proposals for reform. The Minister went on to suggest that one area of change will be to place further controls for play online, specifically to protect customers who are vulnerable. Another potential area of reform that the Government are looking into is consumer redress, as the current systems make it difficult for individuals to seek compensation or support when the operator has breached its social responsibility obligations.

Scrutiny by All-Party groups

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for gambling related harm (GRH) is made up of 60 UK parliamentarians from across all political parties and both houses. The GRH APPG  submitted a response to the review of the 2005 Act. In this response they outline a list of recommendations under the headings: approach to reform; products; conditions of access; promotion; research, education, prevention, and treatment; and regulation. A key recommendation was for the Government to take a whole public health approach to gambling reform, stating that gambling has the potential to affect the whole population and not just vulnerable groups. Another major recommendation was for the Government to commit further and flexible funding to the Gambling Commission, which they state is not fit for purpose.

The APPG GRH released a report in June 2020 on an inquiry they made into the harm of online gambling. In this, they highlight the need for greater regulation on areas such as stake limits online, VIP schemes, and gambling advertising. Based on the APPG’s recommendations from their Interim report published in October 2019, the Gambling Commission announced that the use of credit cards for gambling activities was banned from April 2020.

Scrutiny by Westminster Select Committees

The House of Lords Select Committee published a report on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry in July 2020. They reported that one third of a million of the UK population are ‘problem gamblers’, and that on average, one ‘problem gambler’ commits suicide every day. They highlight that the young are most at risk of being ‘problem gamblers’. In this report they outline fifty recommendations to address gambling addictions.

The UK Government published its response to the House of Lords gambling industry committee report in December 2020. In this they refer to the review of the 2005 Act, in the hope that it can deliver shared objectives with the committee. However, they also outline that, as suggested in the committee’s report, further progress to make gambling safe does not need to wait for the outcome of the review of the Act. The Government outlined that they are committed to ensure that there is specialist support for ‘problem gamblers’.

Gambling Commission

The Gambling Commission is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the DCMS. They regulate arcades, betting, bingo, casinos, gaming machine providers, gambling software providers, lottery operators, external lottery managers and remote gambling (online and by phone) that use equipment based in Great Britain. They also regulate The National Lottery in the UK under the National Lottery etc. Act 1993. They license individuals and businesses that offer gambling and provide them with guidance.

Their strategy for the next three years is shaped by its statutory duties as well as their most recent National Strategic Assessment (2020). In this assessment, they state that gambling participation is not increasing, but gambling activities are changing. They also state that the rate of ‘problem gamblers’ in GB has not increased since 2012. A key issue that they highlight in this assessment is that licensees are not equipped to support and protect customers that are gambling beyond their means.

Gambling participation during the pandemic

In the National Strategic Assessment, the Gambling Commission included a section on the impact of COVID-19 on gambling. They found that there was not a significant number of consumers that took up gambling during the period (2.3% increase). Another key finding was that betting activity exceeded the levels of pre-COVID-19 levels with the return of top-class sport. The Commission’s press release in July 2021 on gambling data states that the Commission will continue to track COVID-19 related risk by monitoring and publishing key data, assessing the impact of strengthened guidance issued to operators and where evidence identifies increased risk to consumers, taking further action.

Gambling behaviours of young people

In an August 2021 press release, the Gambling Commission discussed the research delivered by 2CV (A global insights agency) into gambling behaviours of young people aged 16-30. They found that for some young people, exposure to positive and negative extremes of gambling at an early age led to an increased interest in gambling in later life. In addition, friends and family hugely influence young people’s tendency to gamble. The Commission has set out to communicate these findings with stakeholders involved in the provision of education and preventative measures to young people. In addition to this research, the Commission have tried to strengthen the protection of young people through the regulation of ID verification.

The future role and powers of the Gambling Commission?

The review of the Gambling Act 2005 included a number of questions about the future role and regulation of the Gambling Commission.

DCMS held a consultation from January to March 2021 on the proposals put forward by the Gambling Commission to increase the Commission fees. The Government response accepts these proposals to allow the Gambling Commission to continue to regulate effectively.

Republic of Ireland

Current legislation

Gambling activities are currently regulated under the Betting Act 1931, the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 and the National Lottery Act 2013. The Betting (Amendment) Act 2015 amended the Betting Act 1931 to provide licensing of on-line bookmakers and betting intermediaries. All betting licences are currently issued by the Revenue Commissioners. The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019 came into force in December 2020 to amend the 1956 Act. This sets out to modernise the application process for gaming and lottery permits, standardise the minimum age for all licensed gambling at 10 years of age, update the stake and prize limits for gaming machines, ensure more proceeds from lotteries go to charitable causes and to enhance consumer protection.

Proposals for reform

The Government of Ireland approved the drafting of the Gambling Control Bill 2013 to replace all gaming and betting legislation (including the 1931 and 1956 Acts), as well as to introduce an independent Gambling Regulator. However, whilst the draft Bill was published it ultimately did not proceed. In 2018, the Government decided to proceed with drafting the Bill, at which time further updates were necessary. A report published by the inter-developmental working group in March 2019 on Future Licensing and Regulation of Gambling identified new and emerging issues that were not represented in the 2013 Bill. The Department for Justice is currently drafting the new Gambling Bill to reform regulation of gambling activities and to instate an independent Gambling Regulator.

The Minister for State at the Department of Justice has recently indicated that work on the General Scheme of the Gambling Regulation Bill is at an ‘advanced stage’ and that there is a ‘clear path towards the regulator being established in early 2023’. The Minister further highlighted that the regulator will have the necessary enforcement powers for licensing, and powers to take action where individuals or operators are failing to follow rules and regulations. Furthermore, operators offering activities wholly or party online will be subject to licensing terms and conditions as set out by the regulator. The regulator will also have a range of enforcement powers. Further details on the functions and powers of the regulator will be outlined in the Scheme.

The regulation of gambling in GB and RoI: some key issues

Advertising and licences

Under the 2005 Act, a Gambling Commission operating licence was only required if a gambling operator located at least one piece of remote gambling equipment (‘key equipment‘) in Great Britain. A licence was not required by remote gambling operators who located all their equipment offshore, even if they were used by Great British customers. Overseas gabling operators were banned from advertising in Great Britain unless they were situated within the EEA (including Gibraltar), or in Antigua & Barbuda, the Isle of Man, or the States of Alderney and Tasmania (the ‘white listed’ countries).

The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill of 2014 reformed the 2005 Act to a ‘point of consumption’ regime under which all remote gambling operators require a Gambling Commission licence to transact with, and advertise to, British customers. Operators must comply with Advertising Codes, administered by the Advertising Standards Authority, set out in the Gambling Commission’s Conditions and Code of Practice.

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) represents around 90% of the UK’s betting and gaming industry. Their code of conduct stipulates adherence to an industry code for Socially Responsible Advertising.

A Minister at DCMS outlined that gambling advertising was necessary as it gave licensed gambling operators a ‘key advantage’ over operators on the black market. The UK Government published the ‘Review of the Gambling Act 2005 Terms of Reference and Call for Evidence’ in December 2020, and sought views on the impacts of gambling advertising among other topics.

Gambling advertising: how is it regulated?’, published by the House of Commons Library in August 2021, summarised that the main concern about the current legislation on gambling advertising is the impact on children, young people and vulnerable adults.

According to the Ipsos MORI report 2020, more than 85% of 11-24 year old’s reported seeing gambling advertising on TV (including the National Lottery). Ipsos MORI conclude that rules in place to reduce the exposure of advertising gambling to young people are ineffective (e.g. the ‘25% rule’ introduced by CAP executive to advise advertisers that they should not advertise alcohol, gambling and e-cigarettes to mediums with an audience made up of over 25% under 16-year-olds. The work outlined in the Ipsos MORI report was commissioned by GambleAware with the aim of exploring the effect of gambling on children, young people and vulnerable adults.

In the Republic of Ireland, the Irish Labour Party has launched the Gambling (Prohibition of Advertising) Bill 2021 in March 2021 to ban all gambling advertising in Ireland, with the exception of sponsorship as well as advertising for gambling in connection to a charitable or philanthropic event.

Problem gambling

According to the Gambling Commission, in 2016 there were up to 340,000 ‘problem gamblers’ in the UK. NHSinform define problem gambling as:

…gambling that is disruptive or damaging to you or your family, or interferes with your daily life.

The DSM-IV-MR-J screen is one of the most widely used mechanisms for identifying adolescent ‘problem gamblers’. Based on nine questions, it can help to decide if an individual is a ‘problem gambler’, an at-risk gambler, or a non-problem gambler.

It has been suggested that algorithms could be set-up on gambling websites to offer targeted support to ‘problem gamblers’. The Gambling Commission offers a ‘self-exclusion’ policy, whereby a person affected by gambling can request that their custom be refused by licensed gambling operators. Once a self- exclusion agreement is made, the gambling company must close the account of the person and return any money in it. The Gambling Commission advise that ‘problem gamblers’ use software that blocks access to gambling websites, such as GamBan. GamStop is an online multi-operator self-exclusion scheme that prevents the user from using gambling websites and apps that are licensed in Great Britain.

The GRH APPG response to the review of the 2005 Act stated that we need to move away from a focus on ‘problem gamblers’ as gambling activities generate widespread harm across many parts of society. A report from GambleAware published in 2020, states that up to 20% of the population experience harm directly, or as an ‘affected other’, from gambling activities.

Loot boxes

Loot boxes can be defined as,

…features in video games which may be accessed through gameplay, or purchased with in-game items, virtual currencies, or directly with real-world money.

Dr. David Zendle, a lecturer in Computer Science at the University of York, gave written evidence in 2019 that loot box spending is linked to problem gambling in both adults and adolescents based on his research. He attributes this to the fact that loot boxes are “so like gambling”, and, therefore, provide a gateway to gambling. The Gambling Commission outlined in a 2018 report that 31% of people aged 11-16 opened a loot box in 2018. Dr. Zendle suggests that regulation of loot boxes is necessary.

The Gambling Commission has stated that the Gambling Act 2005 does not cover loot boxes. They also stated here that they are concerned with how the line between video gaming and gambling is becoming increasingly blurred. The DCMS Committee report published in June 2020 outlined that the Government would be launching a call for evidence into the impact of loot boxes on gambling-like behaviour. This call for evidence forms part of the Review of the 2005 Act.

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are electronic machines, located in betting shops, which contain a variety of games. Bets can only be made up to a pre-set maximum and the machine pays out according to fixed odds. Under the 2005 Act, FOBT are classified as B2 gaming machines. Up to four of these machines can be situated at one betting premise.

Under the 2005 Act, the maximum stake on a single bet was £100. The briefing paper on FOBT published by the House of Commons in 2019 summarised that critics of the £100 maximum stake claimed that it was possible to lose a large amount of money and that there is a link between FOBTs and problem gambling. The paper also states that the gambling industry disputed these claims, whilst affirming that reducing the maximum stake would put betting shops and jobs at risk. Gaming Machine (Miscellaneous Amendments and Revocation) Regulations 2018  reduced this figure to £2. No change was made to the maximum prize of £100. The decision to choose £2 is discussed in the Government’s response to the October 2017 consultation on the proposals to change.

Section 52 of the Scotland Act 2016 devolved legislation in relation to gaming machines, where the maximum charge stake on a single bet is more than £10. Given that this came into force prior to the reformation of maximum stake values in 2018, this applied to B2 gaming machines (the classification for FOBTs). Scottish ministers can vary the number of FOBTs allowed on betting premises. This requires an Order subject to the affirmative procedure. The power only applies to applications for new premises licences.

Section 58 of the Wales Act 2017 gave the Welsh Government the same powers as the Scottish Government on gaming machines.

An image showing some crane grab machines at a fairground
Image by John Vincent, used under Creative Commons 2.0

Under-age gambling

It is illegal for any person under 18 years of age in Great Britain to take part in any form of gambling activity, with the exception of the use of Category D gaming machines (e.g. low-stake fruit machines, coil pushes and crane grabs) for anyone under 18, and the purchasing of National Lottery products for 16-18-year-olds.

Research from Cardiff University revealed that two-fifths of 11–16-year-olds gambled in 2019. This is based on data from students who completed the 2017 School Health Research Network Student Health and Wellbeing Survey representing 193 secondary schools in Wales. This study found that Non-White British ethnicities and students who felt less connected with school were more likely to get involved with gambling activities and experience socio-emotional harms. The most popular form of gambling that young people use are fruit machines offered in pubs, clubs and arcades, followed by playing cards for money, and scratch cards. Their findings support the recommendations to work with those that offer education to young people to provide awareness on gambling harms. The researchers advised that future studies should look into the links between gambling behaviours and later gambling problems.

The Young People and Gambling Survey 2019 conducted by Ipsos Mori on behalf of the Gambling Commission found that 11% of 11–16-year-olds had spent some of their own money on gambling activities in the last seven days. This figure follows a downwards trend from 23% in 2011 and 14% in 2018. This study also found that 1.7% of 11–16-year-olds are classified as ‘problem gamblers’. These results are based on a sample of 2,943 pupils.

According to Extern, the Republic of Ireland Department for Health’s research found that almost 10% of people aged 15-17 purchased a lottery ticket or scratch card in 2014-2015, despite the legal age of buying a scratch card being 18 in Ireland.

Gambling legislation and reform in other countries

New Zealand

In New Zealand, gambling is illegal unless authorised under the Gambling Act 2003. Gambling authorised under this Act is classified into four groups:

  • Gambling with a prize greater than $500: All proceeds, if conducted by an individual, must be applied to the winners. Only Class 1 gambling can be conducted by individuals.
  • Prizes with a total value between $500 and $5000: Potential turnover must be between $500-$25,000. This class must be conducted by societies and does not require a licence.
  • Gambling prizes greater than $5000: requires a licence.
  • Gambling using gaming machines: requires a licence.

This Gambling Act prohibits remote interactive gambling in New Zealand using computers, telephones, radios and similar devices. Therefore, it is legal for someone in New Zealand to gamble over the Internet if the website is based overseas. However, it is illegal for a gambling operator based overseas to advertise in New Zealand.

New Zealand has a Gambling Commission that is established under the 2003 Act. The role of the Commission is to hear casino licensing applications and appeal licensing decisions made by the Secretary of Internal Affairs in relation to gaming machines and other non-casino gambling activities.

New Zealand has a strategy specifically for the prevention and minimisation of gambling related harm. This has been in place since July 2004 under the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. As part of this strategy, New Zealand has introduced a mandatory gambling levy (further detail on this can be found in Section 4 of the Strategy, referred to above).


The overarching statute for gambling activity in Canada is the federal Criminal Code. Sections 201-206 outline that all types of gambling, betting and lotteries are illegal in Canada with some limited exemptions. In June 2021, the Bill C-218 The Safe and Regulated Sports Act was approved to allow Canada’s provinces to independently regulate single-event wagering on pro-sports events.


Gambling activities in Norway are regulated under the 1995 Lottery Act, 1992 Gambling Act and 1927 Totalisator Act. This legislation does not differentiate between online and land-based gambling. Under Norweigian legislation, the only company which can legally offer online casino games and betting is the state-owned Norsk Tipping AS. However, Norwegians can legally gamble on foreign-based websites hosted by overseas gambling operators.

The gambling legislation prohibits the provision, marketing or distribution of any form of lottery that does not have a licence from the Norwegian Gambling Authority in accordance with the Norwegian Lottery Act. The Gambling Authority also regulate and supervise gambling and horse racing.

The Norweigian Ministry of Culture introduced a new Gambling Law in June 2021 to implement tighter restrictions on unlicensed betting companies operating in Norway.

Further reading lists

The following is a selection of relevant House of Commons Library publications for further reading on gambling legislation in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland:

The following is a selection of research publications for further reading on gambling:

The following is a selection of parliamentary debates on gambling:

Lists of key organisations

The following is a selection of links to organisations involved in advocating for gambling reform or other related issues:

The following is a selection of links to organisations involved in helping gambling addiction:

  • Extern is a social justice charity in the Republic of Ireland.
  • Gambling with Lives is a UK charity that supports families bereaved by gambling related suicides and raises awareness amongst gamblers of the dangerous effects gambling can have on mental health.
  • GambleAware is a charity that commissions and funds research, education and treatment services in England, Scotland and Wales to help reduce gambling-related harms. They also fund the Gordon Moody Association (which offers advice, counselling, online support and treatment courses for ‘problem gamblers’ in the UK), the NHS National Problem Gambling Clinic (which advances existing models of treatment and develops new models of psychological therapies for ‘problem gamblers’ in England and Wales), GamCare (which provides information and support for those affected by gambling harm in England, Scotland and Wales), and other charities.