Online Gaming Regulators and Licensing Bodies
In order for online gambling to work, it is critical to develop trust among players. This is true of all casinos, of course: even in the brick-and-mortar world, customers need to know that someone is looking out for them and ensuring they aren’t being cheated. But when it comes to Internet gaming, it is even more difficult for players to have confidence in the integrity of the games they play, since they can’t really see how the results of each spin or hand is being determined.
That’s why regulation and licensing of online gambling sites is so important. In numerous jurisdictions around the world, government bodies take on the responsibility of ensuring that all of the operators they license provide games that are fair, random, and safe for players. They also take on other responsibilities, such as helping to establish rules that ensure player funds are safe at all times.
Today, few websites even try to offer iGaming services without getting a license in at least one of these jurisdictions. Even if one manages to do so, we would never recommend playing on one, as licensed sites offer the same great gameplay with far more protection for players.
The following is a list of most of the world’s major regulators for Internet gaming. We can’t claim that this is an exhaustive list, and new jurisdictions are approving gambling over the web every year. However, this should give you an excellent idea as to who the major players are in the regulatory business, what they offer, and just how reputable each one is.
Because there are so many of these bodies to cover, we’ve divided them up by region to help you better find the agencies you are interested in.
North America and Central America
Kahnawake Gaming Commission: Since 1999, this licensing authority – which regulates gaming originating from the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake in Quebec – has been perhaps the most widely recognized names in online regulation. Compared to many regulatory groups, the KGC asks for very little in the way of taxes and fees, making this an attractive place for operators to go for a license, particularly if they aren’t looking to enter locally-regulated markets. The commission is also known for taking player disputes seriously, with valid complaints frequently being upheld by officials.
Nevada Gaming Control Board: First created in 1955 by the state legislature, this board has long been the body charged with overseeing the state’s extensive casino industry. Given the volume of play that they oversee, the board has become one of the most influential names in the landscape of gaming regulation, with many other groups modeling their regulatory methods after those first pioneered in Nevada. Since 2013, the NGCB has also overseen the implementation of Internet poker in the state. For now, interactive licenses issued here only allow an operator to offer poker within state borders (and within networks shared with Delaware).
New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement: When New Jersey began allowing resorts to flourish in Atlantic City in the 1970s, they also created the DGE, which is charged with ensuring the integrity of that industry. Much like their counterparts in Nevada, this level of experience with large-scale operations has made the DGE a model for many other regulators across the globe. Since late 2013, they have also issued licenses to Atlantic City casinos allowing them to offer gaming over the Internet, though currently they may only offer real money gambling to individuals located within New Jersey’s borders.
Panama Gaming Control Board (Junta de Control de Juegos): Since 2002, Panama has been offering licenses to companies wishing to offer regulated online gambling to customers both within the country and throughout the world. With strong requirements for operators when it comes to areas like software testing and money-laundering policies, firms licensed in Panama are typically considered trustworthy by players; meanwhile, low fees and a stable government with good relations in both North and South America make this a desirable base of operations for operators as well.
UK Gambling Commission: Established by the Gambling Act of 2005, the UKGC took over from what was then called the Gaming Board for Great Britain in 2007. It regulates most forms of betting in the United Kingdom, with the exception of sports betting, which is handled separately. As part of its duties, the UKGC oversees remote betting, which includes the licensing of online gaming sites.
While a license from the UKGC has always been prestigious, such a designation has become even more important since the passage of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising Bill). That legislation not only introduced a point-of-consumption tax for remote betting in the UK, but it also required any company that wanted to take bets from UK customers to obtain a license with the UKGC. This has been a controversial change: some companies have chosen to abandon the UK market rather than comply (as they might have to give up some of their grey market operations in order to be awarded a UK license), while the Gibraltar Betting and Gaming Association has challenged the move in court.
ARJEL (France): When France approved the regulation of Internet gambling in 2010, the country also established the Autorite de regulation des jeux en ligne, better known as ARJEL, to oversee the new industry. ARJEL now issues licenses that specifically allow companies to legally offer their web-based games in France, one of the largest betting markets in Europe.
However, ARJEL’s handling of this task has been criticized by many, who say that heavy taxation has limited the scope of the industry and the ability of operators to provide competitive promotions and pricing for players. In addition, the ring-fenced regulation of France has hurt its Internet poker market, as players on licensed sites in the country cannot compete against opponents in other nations.
French online casinos remain a legal grey area with the government slow to allow operators to offer real money online casino games in the country.
AAMS (Italy): The Amministrazione Autonoma dei Monopoli di Stato, better known as AAMS, is charged with regulating online gaming services in Italy. The AAMS was the result of Italian efforts to modernize their laws in order to comply with European Commission rules that dictated how member nations should treat operators from other countries in the EU.
Today, the AAMS issues licenses for remote gaming in a number of different areas, ranging from casino games to poker, sports betting, horse racing wagering, and bingo. In order to apply for a license, companies must prove that they have managed games on a large scale in Europe, be based in an EU country, and be able to establish that they can function in a stable and secure way.
The licenses issued by the AAMS are only meant to allow for legal operation in the Italian market, which is ring-fenced and does not allow for competitive play against players outside the country. Much like neighboring France, the regime here has been criticized for its high taxes and fees, with some rates being as high as 20%.
Spanish Gaming Commission (Comision Nacional del Juego): In 2014, Spain became the latest major European nation to create a regulated online gambling market that would be self-contained, with players unable to compete or interact with international competitors. That means the Spanish Commission is relatively new to the iGaming market, but they have so far seemed supportive of growing the industry in the country.
However, like its neighbors, the segregated nature of these licenses have limited the size and scope of the sites that operate under the Commission, though there has been occasional buzz about interest in combining player pools for poker between the regulators in Spain, Italy, and France. Beyond that, this market also features high taxes on revenues, a common thread among many regulatory bodies in continental Europe.
Gibraltar Licensing Authority: In the 1990s, the isle of Gibraltar (situated just of the coast of southern Spain) became an unlikely hub for the online betting industry. Today, the Gibraltar Licensing Authority regulates companies that headquarter themselves here under the laws set in place by the Gambling Act of 2005, and a Gambling Commissioner is charged with seeing that the many major brands that operate here comply with regulations and maintain Gibraltar’s reputation as a regulatory body for the industry.
More than 30 companies boast offices in Gibraltar, and it is easy to see why reputable gaming firms are happy to be headquartered here. Tax rates are extremely low, normally set at 1% with a cap on the maximum amount that must be paid each year. Additionally, licensed operators are allowed to accept players from jurisdictions around the world, though officials do have the right to block certain locations to comply with anti-money laundering efforts or for other legal or political reasons.
The fact that this jurisdiction can be seen as a tax haven for firms hasn’t always sat well with regulators in other countries, and this has led to conflicts at times. For instance, many firms based in Gibraltar have sued the UKGC over their point-of-consumption tax, which would impose much higher levies on them then what they currently pay to the local government.
Gambling Supervision Commission (Isle of Man): Since 1962, the Gambling Supervision Commission has dealt with the licensing and regulation of all betting operations on the Isle of Man – a role that now includes online gaming. It has chosen to regulate Internet firms in a manner similar to that of Gibraltar, offering long-term licenses and low tax rates to create a very friendly environment for operators.
However, that doesn’t mean that the rules here are anti-player. Internet casino companies headquartered here are required to keep player funds in a separate account from operating cash, an important rule that all but ensures that player account balances can always be recovered even if a website fails.
This is also a popular location for operators who want to offer sites to customers around the world. The Commission does not restrict where each site owner can offer real money play, though they may occasionally ask operators for a legal explanation about why they believe they can target customers in certain markets.
Malta Gaming Authority: Located in the Mediterranean Sea, Malta is likely more often thought of by people – if they think of it at all – as an exotic tourism destination than as a hub for online casinos. But the Malta Gaming Authority oversees a great number of operators, all of whom are happy to take advantage of a relatively generous tax scheme, friendly local financial institutions, and the ability to use their license to take bets from virtually anywhere in the world.
If you know a bit about iGaming in Malta, you might remember that the MGA was once known as the Lotteries and Gaming Authority. The name change came about in 2015 after significant changes to the organization were made in the wake of controversies about how the LGA had handled problems at several poker and casino sites, most notably the Everleaf Network. While those incidents hurt player confidence in the LGA, Maltese authorities have worked to rebuild that trust over the past year, and the MGA remains one of the premiere regulatory bodies in Europe for firms that want to service the worldwide market.
Alderney Gambling Control Commission: Established in 2000, the AGCC is yet another of the commissions based in the British Isles that have worked to attract operators to their shores with promises of a very business-friendly climate. In this case, the AGCC’s pitch involves a 0% taxation rate (with only a set annual fee being collected from each company) and the ability for sites based there to target markets around the world without any restriction.
The AGCC has a generally good reputation with players, though they did receive some criticism in 2011 when they initially failed to respond to growing concerns about payment issues at Full Tilt Poker in the months after Black Friday. However, they did eventually suspend the company’s operating license, a move that ultimately led to the shutdown of the site worldwide.
Jersey Gambling Commission: Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands situated between France and England, and joined the list of islands in the region offering licensing to online gambling operations when it created the Jersey Gaming Commission in 2010. The Commission offers licenses to a variety of firms related to the industry, including operators, software providers, and testing labs. While Jersey has yet to become one of the major settings for iGaming companies to set up their operations, a favourable tax rate and a lack of restrictions on where licensed operators may offer their products could make this yet another attractive choice for those looking to set up shop in Europe.
Belgian Gambling Commission: While online betting is legal in Belgium, the Belgian Gambling Commission keeps a rather tight lid on exactly who is allowed to offer such games. This regulator has become most famous for its extensive blacklist of groups that cannot offer Internet betting in the country, a list that now includes more than 100 different websites.
Those companies that do obtain Belgian licenses can only offer their games to customers within the country on exclusive websites that are only accessible in Belgium. While high tax rates have scared off some operators, others are willing to put up with the many hoops involved in order to gain access to this small but lucrative European market.
Danish Gambling Authority: The Danish Gambling Authority (or DGA) has been accepting applications for licenses from gaming firms since 2012. Before then, all Internet wagering in the country was operated through Danske Spil, the state-sponsored company that was allowed to hold a monopoly on all betting. Today, the DGA instead allows firms that are based just about anywhere to apply for licenses to operate in Denmark.
However, only a limited number of operators have actually taken advantage of this opportunity. Danish licenses offer access only to customers based in Denmark, and the relatively substantial taxation rate of 20% on gross revenue makes it difficult for many groups to find this small market profitable.
Curacao Internet Gambling Association: While online gambling has existed on Curacao since 1993, the CIGA was only created in 2002 in order to directly oversee the industry. CIGA initially offered “master licenses” to companies interested in running iGaming sites from the island nation, though today, most new firms actually take advantage of “sub licenses,” which are doled out from those who hold the master licenses to third parties interested in setting up new sites.
For the most part, this is a very operator-friendly jurisdiction. Corporate tax rates are very low (coming in at around 2%), and there are no additional gaming taxes, though master license holders charge varying fees to the companies that sub-license underneath them. In addition, there are few restrictions on where operators can offer their games, though they are expected to stay out of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
DAC (Aruba): Aruba’s online gambling regulatory landscape is very similar to that of Curacao. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as both countries were part of the Netherland Antilles not long ago. The main difference here is that the DAC is responsible for both land-based and online betting, while those arenas are governed by separate agencies in Curacao. The same restrictions apply to companies that base themselves in Aruba: the DAC will not let them market their games to the Netherlands, though they are free to offer gaming just about everywhere else in the world.
Antigua Division of Gaming: The nation of Antigua and Barbuda has an important place in the history of Internet gambling, as the nation was part of a major dispute with the United States over the structure of the industry. The nation argued that the United States was in violation of the General Agreement on Trade Services for their anti-online gambling stance, and the World Trade Organization agreed, ultimately issuing a $3.4 million claim in Antigua’s favor in 2007.
Today, licenses here are issued by the Division of Gaming (which is itself organized under the Financial Services Regulatory Commission). With little taxation, no restrictions on where companies can offer their games, and a history of standing up for the industry, Antigua has become a popular home for Internet gaming operators who are looking to base themselves in the Caribbean.
PAGCOR and FCLRC (Philippines): The Philippines is the only notable nation in Asia that offers up online gambling licenses for companies to take advantage of. This has put it in a powerful position, as many operators who want to target the Asian market look to acquire a Filipino license in order to gain some clout in the region, or to draw upon talent and resources in the country. While companies that headquarter here can take advantage of extensive tax credits and can attract customers from anywhere in the world, they must agree not to target Filipino residents, and are not permitted to take bets on sporting events that are taking place in the Philippines.
There are actually two different regulators that offer licenses in this country. The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) currently governs only land-based venues, though there have been proposals to allow it to regulate web-based gaming in the Philippines itself. Meanwhile, the First Cagayan Leisure and Resort Corporation (FCLRC) remains the only entity offering e-gaming licenses in the country, with the fees associated with those licenses varying depending on exactly what each individual applicant wants to offer.
ACT Gambling and Racing Commission: Australia has some pretty strict rules when it comes to Internet wagering, but there are certain forms of wagering that are still allowed here provided that companies receive an appropriate license from the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission. These include racebooks and lotteries both of which can be offered to Australian customers. They also issue licenses to Aussie betting sites.
Despite relatively high taxes and fees for the industry, many of the world’s largest betting brands have made sure to get a license from the Commission. The obvious reason for this is that Australians spend more on betting per capita than anyone else in the world, making this a very lucrative market for major operators.
Northern Territory Director-General of Licensing: Once known as the Northern Territory Licensing Commission, that body was abolished in 2015 and replaced by the Director-General of Licensing, which oversees the process of licensing in a number of different industries, including online betting. This regulator only oversees a limited number of games – mostly lotteries – that are offered in Australia and other countries, provided the other nations have not signed on to agreements that would prevent games from being offered there by Australian corporations.
Vanuatu Customs and Inland Revenue: The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu isn’t exactly a hotbed of iGaming activity, but the government here has tried to make an effort to get firms to establish themselves here. In order to attract companies, they have offered extremely low tax rates – a rate of 0.1% for sportsbooks will certainly appeal to thrifty executives – and reasonable fees, while also offering an impressive-sounding array of consumer protections. However, the remote location of Vanuatu has limited how many operators have based themselves here, even if the licensing body itself maintains a relatively healthy reputation.