In the online gaming world, one of the only ways to tell if you’re joining a safe, secure and, ultimately, fair platform is to check if the operator holds a valid licence.
Depending on where the site is active, a country’s particular legal framework and the operator’s professional preference, the organisation supplying the licence will change. However, in general, an official operating certificate from an established regulator typically means you’re going to be afforded an honest and reliable service in the following ways:
The easiest way to find details of an operator’s online casino or betting licence is to scroll to the bottom of its homepage. As part of the licensing process, an operator must clearly display which governing body it’s affiliated with. In most cases, legit operators will provide a direct link to its online certificate stored on the regulator’s website.
If you can’t find evidence of a licence here. Check a site’s FAQ or ask a member of the support team. If that doesn’t reveal anything, search the online databases of the regulators we’ve listed below. If you can’t find any information using these steps, it’s highly likely the site doesn’t have a licence and should, therefore, be avoided.
The evolution of the iGaming industry has resulted in a hierarchy of licensing authorities and, in a twist on expectations, age isn’t a marker of quality. In recent years, the youngest online regulator has become the gold standard for regulation.
The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) imposes some of the tightest rules on operators and that’s mainly because it’s backed and empowered by the UK government. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly true the leading regulators are not the oldest, but those born out of government-imposed national iGaming regulations.
Based on this, we can order the world’s iGaming authorities in the following way:
The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC)
Founded in 2007 to oversee the UK’s gambling industry, the UKGC assumed responsibility for the regulation of online operators in 2014. Following the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014, the UKGC superseded all previously whitelisted regulators.
Since coming into power, the UKGC has brought in rules that require licensees to store player funds in secure, segregated accounts. The benefit of this is that your money is, in theory, protected in the event the site goes bust. Additionally, the UKGC has clamped down on ambiguous and poorly targeted advertising in an effort to clean up the image of online gaming.
The Alderney Gambling Control Commission
Generally accepted to be one of the leading regulators not born out of national legislation, the Alderney Gambling Control Commission has a similar set of conditions to the UKGC. In practical terms, an operator must hold both a Category 1 and Category 2 licences in order to offer online gaming to customers.
The former defines how operators must act with regards to player registrations, verifying player identities, managing funds and advertising. The latter deals with the placing of bets, proving games are random, carrying out financial transactions and ensuring a platform is secure. When pieced together, these two licences ensure that a player is protected at all times.
Gibraltar Betting and Gaming Association (GBGA)
Born out of the Gambling Act (2005), the GBGA is overseen by the Gibraltar Gambling Commissioner and currently serves as the international regulator for the likes of Ladbrokes and William Hill. Like the above authorities, the GBGA has a licensing fee and has strict guidelines involving the acceptance of bets, game fairness, advertising, the protection of player funds and onsite security.
Isle of Man Gambling Supervision Commission
As a regulatory body, the Isle of Man’s Gambling Supervision Commission (GSC) is one of the oldest. Established as an independent statutory board in 1962 to oversee land-based gaming, the authority now performs a similar function in the online arena. Working under the following principles, the GSC sets out guidelines for player protection, anti-money laundering and gaming fairness in a bid to:i) keep the gambling industry crime free ii) protect the young and those at risk iii) ensure that the services offered by licence holders are fair and that players receive their true winnings
Malta Gaming Authority
Beyond the top four licensing authorities, the Malta Gaming Authority stands as an effective but slightly inferior option. First coming into power in 2001 following the Lotteries and Other Games Act, the MGA has overseen the growth of iGaming on the island. However, the regulator hasn’t been immune from incidents over the years. In February 2017, it was forced to disavow its association with 10 rogue gambling sites.
Although not of its making, the independent nature of the MGA has sometimes made it a target for unscrupulous operators. In a bid to improve its service, the MGA proposed a major overhaul of the country’s gaming laws. Under the 2017 proposal, the MGA will be given more power, including the ability to intervene in industry issues in a similar way to the UKGC. If and when these changes happen, the MGA will become an even stronger licensing authority.
Looking beyond the top five iGaming licensing authorities, there are those that are well-established but not sufficient for today’s ever-changing industry. Starting with the least reputable, this group of regulators can be ordered in the following way:
Kahnawake Gaming Commission
The Kahnawake Gaming Commission’s reputation suffered due to its handling of Full Tilt collapse. When the US poker site was shut down by the Department of Justice in 2011, a lot of players lost money because their funds were tied up with the company’s operating capital. Because Kahnawake hadn’t made the separation of funds a licensing condition, it came under fire from those in the industry.
Operators in Costa Rica don’t technically need a licence and there are no market restrictions. Moreover, the Costa Rican gaming regulator was held partly responsible for another high-profile incident in the online poker world. When an insider at Absolute Poker was able to exploit a glitch in the system and see opponent’s hole cards, the Costa Rican authority was slow to act. Today, operators such as Vernons and Metro Play have licences from Costa Rica.
Belize has been offering online gambling regulation since 1995 through the Computer Wagering Licensing Act. Under the watch of the Belize Computer Wagering Licensing Board, licence applications were reviewed before the system was overhauled in 2004. Today, operators such as Lotto London are required to process hold a separate account for processing wagers and may have to pay a processing charge of 5% or $20, whichever is greater.
Although it’s not among the top five gambling regulators, Curacao eGaming does have licensees such as Jackpot247 and Paddy Power. Additionally, many of the emerging Bitcoin betting sites like CoinBet and Red Star Poker have Curacao licences. The main downside to this regulator is that it only offers sub-licenses. This basically means that operators aren’t receiving a direct seal of approval from the government.
Thanks to Free Trade and Processing Act (1994), online casinos first had a way to obtain a licence via the government of Antigua and Barbuda. From this, the need for regulation increased and Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KGC) was formed in 1996. With a regulatory framework now in place, the number of online casinos jumped from 15 to more than 200.
By 1999, governments around the world started to take note of the industry’s rise and sought to exert some control. Across the Atlantic, commissions in Alderney, Malta and the Isle of Man wanted to impose tighter regulations on the sites they licenced. Measures such as anti-money laundering, the protection of player funds and fair gaming criteria were all added into the mix.
Following the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), the industry was forced into a new era. With UIGEA essentially outlawing online gaming in the US, operators were forced to reconsider their status both in the US and the world at large. In the ensuing years, governments in Europe worked to impose similar restrictions on the industry which, in turn, forced increased regulation.
This dynamic resulted in new government-backed regulators entering the industry. Today, operators active in countries such as France, Spain, the UK and even the US have to conform to the rules defined by national legislation.
Although the leading regulators are great at controlling things on a business level, their direct interaction with players is slightly less impressive. Indeed, if you take a look at the UKGC’s remit, it clearly states that it doesn’t handle disputes between players and operators. Although it asserts that a licensee must offer free dispute resolution services via an independent third-party, it doesn’t get involved directly.
In some respects, this is fair as it could create a conflict of interest. However, the current measures often leave players at the mercy of operators. If a problem ever occurs, players typically take their complaints to forums and established iGaming review sites such as The Pogg. Although unofficial, these methods are often the best way for customers to get their concerns some attention. Indeed, many of the larger online gaming sites have representatives that respond to comments on message boards and even host dedicated sub forums on sites such as 2+2.
Overall, when it comes to keeping online gaming companies in line, the leading authorities do a faily good job. In fact, as the industry has evolved, the level of oversight has improved dramatically and, by all accounts, will continue to improve. Although dispute resolution and mediation could be improved, you can be assured of a safe, secure and fair gaming experience from a site licensed by one of the leading authorities.