Law Library Stacks

Back to Index of Sports Betting

Gambling in Great Britain is permitted and regulated by the Gambling Act 2005, which significantly liberalized the gambling industry.  The operation of this Act is overseen by the Gambling Commission.  Internet gambling operations fall within the purview of the Act if one piece of equipment related to online gambling is located within Great Britain.  Great Britain also imposes taxes on a number of gambling activities, provides for integrity fees in horseracing, and protects the intellectual property of football leagues, although the latter has faced a lengthy ongoing legal battle.

I. Introduction

The link between gambling and sports has been in existence for centuries and grew rapidly during the twentieth century, exploding at the turn of the twenty-first century with the advent of online gambling combined “with the globalisation of live sports broadcasting, leading to a radical shift of business from high-street betting shops to online platforms that enable betting on sports events from remote locations 24 hours a day.”[1] 

Gambling in Great Britain is a “mature and highly competitive market that has been liberalised for many years.”[2] The industry generated over £14 billion (approximately US$19 billion) in revenue and employed over 100,000 people between October 2016 and September 2017.[3]  Over £4.9 billion (approximately US$6.5 billion) of this revenue was generated from the remote betting sector, which has a 35% market share of the gambling industry.[4]

Back to Top

II. Regulation of Gambling in Great Britain

Gambling is permitted throughout Great Britain; however, its operation and the ability of gambling companies to advertise is regulated under the Gambling Act 2005,[5] the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014,[6] and the National Lottery etc. Act 1993.[7]   

The Gambling Act 2005 “significantly liberalized gambling laws,” permitting online gambling and allowing gambling companies to run advertisements.[8]  The 2005 Act defines “gambling” as gaming, betting, or participating in a lottery[9] and provides the Gambling Commission (the regulator of gambling in Great Britain along with local authorities)[10] with the authority to issue and oversee gambling licenses and ensure compliance with the 2005 Act.[11]  In that capacity the Gambling Commission has the power to investigate suspected breaches of the Act, impose fines, revoke licenses, and initiate prosecutions under the Gambling Act.  The Gambling Commission must regulate gambling in the public interest while ensuring its statutory duties are fulfilled. 

Back to Top

III. Licenses

Facilities that provide onsite or online gambling in Great Britain are required to obtain a license for the specific purpose of the gambling activities provided from the Gambling Commission.[12]  The type of license differs according to the type of gambling the licensee wishes to operate.  In order to be granted a license, the following licensing objectives provided for in the Act must be met:

(a) preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime,

(b) ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way, and

(c) protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling.[13]

Legal scholars have noted that “[it] is clear that the three licensing objectives express the primary purpose which it is intended the Gambling Act 2005 should achieve.”[14]

Internet gambling, commonly referred to as online gambling, is permitted in Great Britain and is referenced in the Gambling Act 2005 under the catch-all term “remote gambling,” which encompasses gambling using the telephone, television, radio, or “any other kind of electronic or other technology for facilitating communication.”[15]  

The Gambling Commission has published a number of standard license conditions that apply to various types of gambling[16] and, pursuant to the Gambling Act 2005, has made social responsibility an explicit condition of all licenses.  

Back to Top

IV. Offenses

The ability to gamble online twenty-four hours a day led to an increase in the number of gamblers and drove bookmakers to develop new betting products, which

prompted the reported infiltration of organized crime into sports betting, attracted both by money-laundering opportunities and by the opportunity to guarantee substantial returns through fixing.  And as a result, in the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st, the most popular sports for betting (cricket, horseracing, tennis and football) have suffered a long series of corruption scandals.[17]

The government considered these matters during a review that resulted in the Gambling Act 2005, opting to continue a noninterventionist approach regarding sports regulation and allow the governing bodies of sports to continue to regulate themselves.[18]  While the noninterventionist approach was adopted, the 2005 Act includes a variety offenses that apply to gambling.  It is an offense to provide facilities for gambling without the appropriate licenses or approvals, or facilities for gambling that do not fall within an exception to the Act.  This is punishable by up to fifty-one weeks imprisonment and/or a fine.[19]  This offense extends to those who provide facilities for online gambling, if the individuals providing facilities for gambling have at least one piece of remote gambling equipment located in Great Britain.  If they do not, then the offense cannot apply to them, even if the gambling service is provided to people in Great Britain.[20]  Conversely, individuals that have one piece of equipment in Great Britain that is used for the purpose of facilitating online gambling fall within the scope of the Act, even if the remote gambling is only offered to people outside of Great Britain. 

Gambling software is also licensed under the 2005 Act.  A license is required for businesses that “manufacture, supply, install or adapt . . . computer software for remote gambling.”[21]  Failing to obtain the appropriate license is punishable with up to fifty-one weeks imprisonment and/or a fine.

Back to Top

V. “Prohibited Territories”

The Secretary of State has the authority to “blacklist” certain countries or designate them as “prohibited territories” at his discretion.  The result of this blacklisting is that it becomes an offense for a person using any remote gambling equipment in Great Britain to invite or enable a person in a blacklisted territory to participate in remote gambling.[22]  The Secretary of State designates the country or place as a “prohibited territory” by order.  The Explanatory Notes to the Gambling Act 2005 describes the designation process as follows:

The Secretary of State’s decision whether or not to exercise this power could depend on matters such as: the development of the global gambling market; the laws which other countries establish to permit, constrain or prohibit the use of remote gambling; the practical measures employed by those countries to secure compliance with such laws; and the extent to which it is possible to reach international agreements about the cross-border use of the internet for gambling.[23]

Back to Top

VI. Taxing Gambling Revenues

The taxation of gambling profits in Great Britain is complex and varies according to the different types of gambling.  For example, seven different duty regimes apply to gambling:

  • General Betting Duty applies to bets made with bookmakers, betting exchanges, and the Tote (soon to be replaced by Britbet), and is currently 15% of net stakes receipts.
  • Pool Betting Duty applies to football pools and fantasy football competitions and is currently 15% of net pool betting receipts.[24]
  • Gaming Duty applies to casino games played on licensed premises and is a banded charging structure of between 15% and 50% of a casino’s gross gaming yield.[25]
  • Amusement Machine License Duty applies to amusement and gaming machines, and is a license-based duty with the amount of duty dependent on the type of machine, maximum stake/prize, and duration of the license, varying from 5% to 25% of net takings.[26]
  • Bingo Duty applies to commercial bingo and is currently 10% of bingo promotion profits.[27]
  • Lottery Duty is paid by the National Lottery at 12%.[28]
  • Remote Gaming duty applies to gambling via remote communications including the Internet, and is currently set at 15% of net receipts.[29]

Back to Top

VII. Integrity Fees

The government of Great Britain recently proposed introducing a levy on betting across all sports, but the proposal was not realized[30] and, with one exception, the laws of Great Britain do not appear to provide for integrity fees to be payable to the majority of sporting leagues for bets made on their events.  The one exception is horseracing, which has received a levy on the profits of bets made in bookmakers across the UK since it was introduced in 1961,[31] in order to “offset the decline in race day revenue (gate receipts) following the legalisation of bookmakers’ off course operations, which had meant that people wishing to place a bet on a horserace no longer needed to attend it. The Levy ensured that some proceeds from off-course operations were returned to racing.”[32]

In the wake of the legalization of online gambling, the levy received by the horse racing industry dropped by almost half, from £99.3 million (approximately US$131.2 million) in 2005–6 to £54.5 million (approximately US$72 million) in 2015–16,[33] and led to “an unfair two-tier system whereby a bookmaker physically based in Great Britain must pay the Levy, whereas bookmakers who are based offshore do not, in otherwise identical circumstances.”[34]  A voluntary arrangement was attempted, but was unsuccessful.[35]  As a result, the law[36] was recently reformed to apply the levy to bets on horseracing placed with all gambling operators, including online operators, across the UK.[37]  The levy is 10% of a gambling operator’s gross profits (the gross gambling yield, which are stakes, minus winnings paid out)[38] over £500,000 (approximately US$660,000),[39] and is currently collected and distributed by the Horserace Betting Levy Board in accordance with its general objectives and annual business plan.[40]  Starting in April 2019 the Racing Authority will manage the distribution of this levy, being “tasked with implementing the policy and strategy for racing’s central funding, ensuring funds are distributed fairly and transparently. It will also devise ways to grow funding, and consult with the betting industry and other stakeholders on key matters relating to the growth of racing.”[41]  The funding will be used for “(1) the improvement of breeds of horses; (2) the advancement of encouragement of veterinary science or veterinary education[; and] (3) the improvement of horse racing.”[42]

As the levy is considered to be state aid, approval for this change had to be sought from the European Commission, which it provided in April 2017.[43]

While there are currently no integrity fees for other sports, the governing bodies of major sports receive substantial amounts of money from gambling companies in the form of sponsorships.[44]  For example, during the 2016–17 season, 50% of teams in the English Premier League carried gambling sponsorships on their shirts,[45] resulting in £47.3 million (approximately US$63 million) in shirt sponsorships by gambling companies.[46]

Back to Top

VIII. Mandated Data Purchase Fees

Written works and databases in the UK are protected under both domestic copyright laws and the EC Database Directive, which creates a property right in the database itself and enables the creator to bring a claim against anyone who extracts or reutilizes all, or a substantial part, of the database without consent.[47]  There have been a number of cases involving databases compiled by the horseracing industry and football leagues that have weakened the rights of these industries over the data. 

A. British Horseracing

In 2004, the European Court of Justice heard a case involving the governing body for horseracing in Britain and a leading bookmaker.  The British Horseracing Board (BHB, currently known as the British Horseracing Authority) had compiled a vast quantity of data relating to horseracing that cost approximately £4 million (approximately US$5.31 million) annually to compile and maintain.[48]  William Hill Ltd., a bookmaker, was permitted to use information from the database in the course of its betting business, but had posted the information on its website without permission.  The BHB argued that its database was protected under article 7 of the Database Directive, as it had made

qualitatively and/or quantitatively a substantial investment in either the obtaining, verification or presentation of the contents to prevent extraction and/or re-utilization of the whole or of a substantial part, evaluated qualitatively and/or quantitatively, of the contents of that database.[49]

The BHB further argued that William Hill’s use of information from the database on its website infringed BHB’s database rights, as William Hill was extracting and reutilizing a substantial part of the BHB database.[50]  In November 2004, the European Court of Justice ruled that the BHB’s database did not qualify for protection under the Database Directive:[51]

In essence … it is the investment in the gathering and verification of data for a database that qualifies the database for protection under the Directive, not the creation and verification of that data in the first place.  As a result, if (as in the case of the BHB database and the football fixture lists) the obtaining or verification of data is done at the same time as the creation of the data, such that the investment made is the same for both, then the resulting database does not qualify for protection under the Database Directive.  In other words, the substantial investment involved in the obtaining, verification and presentation of the information by those bodies does not in itself give them the right to prevent unauthorised use of the information by third parties.[52]

The result of the case has provided that

the author of a database of sports data may be able to benefit from the sui generis database right created by the Database Directive, but only if he can demonstrate that he has made a substantial investment of the type that qualifies for protection under the Directive.  Investment in the creation of data (eg deciding when events should be played) does not count; instead, there must be investment in the collecting/collating, verifying and/or presenting of that data in a database.  If such investment is shown, a database right arises that protects the database from an unauthorized person extracting or re-utilising all or a substantial qualitative or quantitative terms, but focuses in both cases on the investment made by the database right owner in the creation of the database and the prejudice caused to that investment by the act of extracting or re-utilising that part.[53]

B. Football Fixture Lists

Football fixture lists have faced similar challenges.  As a result of a case heard in 1959,[54] the football fixture list is protected by copyright law, and Football DataCo manages these rights on behalf of the Premier League, Football League, Scottish Premier League, and Scottish Football League, granting licenses to third parties to allow them to reproduce fixtures from these leagues.[55]  These rights in the fixture lists have brought the football leagues millions of dollars from betting operators and newspapers, who pay to use them, providing “much needed revenue at all levels of the professional game.”[56] 

The licensing of this data has not been without controversy, and has resulted in a long running series of court cases to clarify, protect, and enforce the rights of the football league in the fixture lists.  In a case heard in 2012 the Court of Justice of the European Union held[57] that neither copyright nor database rights existed in the football fixture lists, as the

football fixture list cannot be protected by copyright when its compilation is dictated by rules or constraints which leave no room for creative freedom[.] The fact that the compilation of the list required significant labour and skill on the part of its creator does not justify, in itself, it being protected by copyright.[58] 

The case returned to the English Court of Appeal, which determined that database rights existed in the information gathered by match watchers, and that bookmakers were infringing this right when they reported certain aspects of the data.[59]  This judgment effectively “granted [DataCo] intellectual property rights on the statistics inside its database.”[60] 

Back to Top

Prepared by Clare Feikert-Ahalt
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
July 2018


[1] Adam Lewis QC & Jonathan Taylor, Sport: Law and Practice ¶¶ B2.3-4 (3d ed. 2014).

[2] European Commission, State Aid SA.46216 (2017/N) – United Kingdom Horserace Betting Levy, C (2017) 2478 (Apr. 21, 2017) ¶ 2.1(7), http://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/cases/267768/267768_1901680_142_2.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/FD8T-QUZW

[4] Id.

[6] Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014, c. 17, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/17, archived at https://perma.cc/K2VD-DLG8

[7] National Lottery etc. Act 1993, c. 39, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1993/39, archived at https://perma.cc/F6UQ-5DXL

[8] Christopher Bunn et al., Shirt Sponsorship by Gambling Companies in the English and Scottish Premier Leagues: Global Reach and Public Health Concerns, 19 Soccer & Society at 1 (2018) (accessed by subscription).

[9] Gambling Act 2005, c. 19, § 3.

[10] Gambling Act 2005, c. 19, §§ 20-32.

[12] Id. § 65.

[13] Id. § 1.

[14] Smith and Monkcom: The Law of Gambling ¶ 1.14 (Gerald Gouriet QC & Jeremy Phillips eds., 4th ed. 2017).

[15] Gambling Act 2005, c. 19, § 4.

[16] Gambling Commission, License Conditions and Codes of Practice (Jan. 2018, effective Apr. 4, 2018), http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/PDF/LCCP/Licence-conditions-and-codes-of-practice-April-2018.pdf, archived at  https://perma.cc/FBD5-XWGP.

[17] Lewis & Taylor, supra note 1, ¶ B2.4.

[18] Gambling Act 2005, c. 19, part 3.  See also id. ¶ A1.12.

[19] Gambling Act 2005, c. 19, § 33.

[20] Id. § 36. 

[21] Id. § 41.

[22] Id. § 44.

[23] Gambling Act 2005, c. 19, Explanatory Notes, ¶ 171, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/19/notes, archived at https://perma.cc/5B6N-YP38.

[24] Guidance: General Betting Duty, Pool Betting Duty and Remote Gaming Duty, HM Revenue & Customs, https://www.gov.uk/guidance/general-betting-duty-pool-betting-duty-and-remote-gaming-duty (last updated April 25, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/8SHF-MK6X

[25] Guidance Gaming Duty, HM Revenue & Customs (Aug. 14, 2014), https://www.gov.uk/guidance/gaming-duty#returns-and-payments, archived at https://perma.cc/6NH2-V3HM

[26] Machine Games Duty, gov.uk, https://www.gov.uk/machine-game-duty/how-much-you-pay (last visited June 27, 2018), archived at https://perma.cc/DT6A-7FXU.

[27] Guidance: Bingo Duty, HM Revenue & Customs (Sept. 11, 2014), https://www.gov.uk/guidance/bingo-duty#calculating-bingo-duty, archived at https://perma.cc/3WA5-V5ZQ

[28] Guidance: Lottery Duty, HM Revenue & Customs (Mar. 13, 2013), https://www.gov.uk/guidance/lottery-duty, archived at https://perma.cc/4XV7-MXJD

[29] Guidance: General Betting Duty, Pool Betting Duty and Remote Gaming Duty, supra note 24.

[30] Sport Betting Levy Amongst 'Innovative' Labour Sport Plans, BBC News (July 24, 2014), https://www.bbc. com/news/uk-28457108, archived at https://perma.cc/3C48-CV68.

[31] Murad Ahmed, Betting Tax Change Set to Boost UK Horseracing Industry, Financial Times (London) (Jan. 13, 2017) (by subscription). 

[32] Department for Culture Media & Sport, Extending the Horserace Betting Levy: A Consultation on Implementation ¶ 2.2 (June 2014), https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/ attachment_data/file/323973/Levy_Extension_consultation.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/KA39-CEDF.

[33] Greg Wood, Government Announces Long-Awaited Levy Reform Boost for Racing, The Guardian (London) (Jan 13, 2017), https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jan/14/government-levy-reform-boost-horse-racing, archived at https://perma.cc/9A9B-QWTN

[34] The Horserace Betting Levy Regulations 2017, Explanatory Memorandum (Draft), ¶ 7.2, https://www.legislation. gov.uk/ukdsi/2017/9780111155530/pdfs/ukdsiem_9780111155530_en.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/4A7N-BCM6

[35] Id. ¶ 7.4.

[36] Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, c. 2, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1963/2, archived at https://perma.cc/G7W7-KBAY

[37] The Horserace Betting Levy Regulations 2017, SI 2017/589, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2017/589/made, archived at https://perma.cc/C3DL-8TRW, made under the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014, c. 17, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/17, archived at https://perma.cc/YE6S-RTVD.

[38] Government Boost for Horseracing in Betting Levy Reform, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (Jan. 14, 2017), https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-boost-for-horseracing-in-betting-levy-reform, archived at https://perma.cc/6B66-SDJX.  

[39] Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, c. 2, § 27.

[40] Business Plan, Horserace Betting Levy Board, https://www.hblb.org.uk/page/27 (last visited June 27, 2018), archived at https://perma.cc/EV97-RNYN.

[41] UK Racing Agrees Structure for New Levy Distribution Body, Gaming Intelligence (June 12, 2018), http://www.gamingintelligence.com/people/47804-uk-racing-agrees-structure-for-new-levy-distribution-body, archived at https://perma.cc/Z4XL-HAHY

[42] European Commission, supra note 2, ¶ 2.3(25).

[43] Id. ¶ 7.

[44] David Purdum, Premier League Supports MLB, NBA’s Sports Betting Vision, ESPN (Apr. 20, 2018), http://www.espn.com/chalk/story/_/id/23246364/chalk-premier-league-supports-mlb-nba-sports-betting-vision, archived at https://perma.cc/4DFZ-R7C2

[45] Bunn et al, supra note 8, at 3.

[46] Rob Davies, UK Gambling Industry Now Takes £14bn a Year From Punters – Report, Guardian (London) (Aug. 31, 2017), https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/aug/31/uk-gambling-industry-takes-14bn-year-punters, archived at https://perma.cc/3U8D-6KX2

[47] EU Directive 96/9, incorporated into national law by the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997, SI 1997/3032, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1997/3032/made, archived at https://perma.cc/T2T9-K4CF

[49] Directive 96/9/EC on the Legal Protection of Databases art. 7, 1996 O.J. (L 77) 20, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/ lexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31996L0009:EN:HTML, archived at https://perma.cc/53LK-4LZL

[50] Case C-203/02, British Horseracing Board Ltd. v William Hill Ltd. 2004 E.C.R. I – 10461 ¶ 20.

[51] Id.: Case C-444/02, Fixtures Marketing Ltd. v. Organismos Prognostikon Agonon Podosfairou AE (OPAP), 2004 E.C.R. I-10590. http://curia.europa.eu/juris/showPdf.jsf?text=&docid=49635&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode= req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=229014, archived at https://perma.cc/TCT9-9HSH; Case C-46/02, Fixtures Marketing Ltd. v. Oy Veikkaus Ab, 2004 E.C.R. I - 10396, http://curia.europa.eu/juris/showPdf.jsf?text=&docid= 49636&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=232195 archived at https://perma.cc/MT3M-DDHV; Case C-338/02, Fixtures Marketing Ltd. v. Svenska Spel AB, 2004 E.C.J. I – 10532, http://curia.europa.eu/juris/showPdf.jsf?text=&docid=49634&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=req& dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=231733, archived at https://perma.cc/M3SC-4JWF.

[52] Lewis & Taylor, supra note 1, ¶ I 1.92.

[53] Id.¶ I 1.95.

[54] Football League Ltd. v. Littlewoods Pools Ltd. [1959] Ch 637.

[55] Bill Wilson, Football Match Fixture List Copyright Claim Rejected, BBC News (Mar. 1, 2012), https://www.bbc. com/news/business-17218968, archived at https://perma.cc/N2UW-3YQW.  

[56] Id.  

[57] Case C-604/10, Football Dataco Ltd. et al. v. Yahoo! UK Ltd. et al. 2012 ECLI C:2012:115, http://curia.europa. eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=119904&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=166095,, archived at https://perma.cc/A3WK-QDRJ

[58] Press Release, Court of Justice of the European Union, Judgment in Case C-604/10 Football Dataco and Others v. Yahoo! UK Ltd. and Others, No. 16/12 (Mar. 1, 2012), http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_CJE-12-16_en.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/ZKR7-PBCS.

[59] Football Dataco Ltd. et al. v. Sportradar et al. [2013] EWCA Civ 27, http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/ 2013/27.html, archived at https://perma.cc/9GJW-WMHD

[60] Purdum, supra note 44.

Back to Top

Last Updated: 12/30/2020