Booming Black Market—Illegal Gambling is on the Rise in the UK

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Illegal gambling is on the rise in the United Kingdom, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. High rollers are turning away from established sportsbooks and placing bets with unlicensed bookies, while many online casino players are looking overseas for their gaming needs.

So, what’s the issue and can anything stop the rot?

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What is Illegal Gambling?

Illegal gambling operations are ones that target UK players without acquiring a UK license. They can benefit from the lucrative UK market without abiding by any of its regulations, giving them the best of both worlds. But, of course, it also means that players aren’t protected and have very little resource for action if they are scammed.

The Illegal Gambling Industry

The UK gambling market is one of the most lucrative in the world, but it’s also one of the most tightly regulated. UK players face strict restrictions with regards to where they gamble, how they gamble, and what information they must provide. There are a host of regulations designed to reduce underage gambling, problem gambling, fraud, and money laundering, and new ones are being introduced all of the time.

For instance, changes set to be introduced in September 2024 will limit maximum slot spins to £2 for those aged 18 to 24 and £5 for older gamers. Stricter affordability checks have also been proposed, and players who lose more than £125 a month or £500 a year will be asked to prove they can afford such issues.

These changes don’t mean much to the average casual gambler, but they are problematic for high rollers who are questioned about every deposit and prevented from making sizeable wagers. It’s also a problem for those who want to keep their activities private—it doesn’t mean they are doing anything illegal, just that they are private.

For this reason, the UK gambling market is thought to generate over £270 million a year, and as there’s no way of tracking these activities, the number could be much higher.

A Growing Problem

According to Yield Sec, an intelligence platform designed to combat the spread of illegal online activities, the global illegal gambling market is worth over £4 trillion a year. The UK accounts for a fraction if this sum and most of it is driven by consumers in Asia and North America, where gambling is either illegal or very tightly controlled, but the UK’s percentage is rising.

There is no suggestion that gambling will ever be criminalised in the UK and considering the relationship we have with the industry and the many classic British brands that rely upon it, prohibition is unlikely. But the government clearly wants to tighten regulations, and that’s driving more and more players away.

The British Horseracing Authority’s Right to Bet survey suggests that 40% of UK gamblers would consider placing a bet with an unregulated operator, and in an age of VPNs, untraceable cryptocurrencies, and loose overseas regulations, it has never been easier for them to do so.

Unregulated gambling is a massive problem. It’s a risk for the player and a headache for the regulators, but it’s not going away and will remain a thorn in the industry’s side for a long time to come.

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