The UK's Strict Gambling Age Limits Fully Explained

12 min

We’ve seen many studies that tackle underage gambling and its ongoing effects, so we made it our mission to explain how important it is to respect the legal gambling age in the UK and what happens if a player breaks the law.

At the end of this guide, you will also know the legal gambling status of each country in the UK, alongside the regulatory bodies that govern each of them.

Important

Gambling at a very young age can severely impact both mental and physical health, with repercussions that can last a lifetime.

The reality of underage gambling and general knowledge

Despite strict gambling age laws in the UK, a surprising number of adults underestimate the gravity of underage gambling.

Recent surveys found that 8 out of 10 adults are unaware of the severe mental, physical, and financial consequences that can result when those under 18 engage in gambling activities prematurely. Moreover, they don’t know the legal consequences their children and themselves will face.  The earlier youth start gambling, the greater the likelihood these issues will arise and plague them for life. Yet the vast majority of adults fail to recognise the true dangers underage gambling poses.

Country Online casino age limit Land-based casino age limit
England 18 18
Scotland 18 18
Wales 18 18
Northern Ireland 18 18

Be aware

As a general rule, players must be at least 18 to participate in gambling activities. This applies to all countries that are part of the United Kingdom. However some well-known land-based casinos in the UK impose a 21 limit at the entry, to ensure their clients are more experienced with money.

Anyone who tries to break the law (be it a player or casino operator) will receive severe sanctions.

How old do you have to be to bet in Northern Ireland?

Since gambling in Northern Ireland is regulated separately from UKGC and implies other laws. Nonetheless, the legal age still remains 18 years old.

Gambling age versus youth gambling

In recent years, the percentage of children who accessed the gambling world skyrocketed, even compared to other illegal activities, like alcohol abuse.

A gambling addiction’s point of entry may be earlier than you’d think!

Can gambling be disguised as gaming?

In some cases, yes! Many games nowadays have loot boxes and skins which players can either buy or win along the way. Almost all video games have a gamification procedure that allows players to choose between hard-working to gather the items and money for the skin or power needed, or to add their parents’ cards and buy with real money.

But there’s a catch!

These features are designed to change the design of your avatar or to receive some weapons that you can use throughout the game.

Naturally, the idea behind them is to make you unlock more and more features without taking into account the risks that come with them because you don’t actually know what you will get.

The same principle is found in Slot games!

In those cases, you spin the machine and hope to earn something, according to the Random Number Generator.

Although, for now, the link between video games and gambling hasn’t been explored exhaustively, many have noticed that loot boxes and skins are a form of gambling.

They enable the idea of reward, conditioned by risk-taking (either with money or for free). This compels young people to keep going until they find a satisfactory feature that fits well in their gameplay.

The concept of ‘gambling’ is comprised of many games that can be accessed by new and professional players. Most of them have age restrictions, but there are a few exceptions.

Here are 2 of the most encountered and requested type of games, analysed in point of legal age:

Slots

Game category Age limit (online & land-based)
Classic Slots 18
VR Slots 18
5-Reel Slots 18

Slots are the most encountered game category both online and in land-based venues.

They are regarded as games of chance because there is no set strategy to ‘beat the system’, so you at most rely on luck. They fall into A to C categories, depending on their stakes.

Before you engage in such games, it’s important to take a few steps back and inform yourself about the best Slot sites on the market, along with some tips on how to make the most of them. Don’t worry, the CasinoAlpha team created a special guide to help you along!

Table Games

Game category Age limit (online & land-based)
Roulette 18
Poker 18
Blackjack 18

Brick-and-mortar casinos have a wide variety of table games available, such as Poker, Roulette, Blackjack, Baccarat, Craps and so on.

On the other hand, an online gambling platform offers you the chance to play these games in two distinctive ways:

  • Against a software;
  • Against other real-life players in Live Dealer games.

Once again, regardless of what type of platform you are using, it must be licensed by a competent authority.

Gambling under 18 – what games can you legally play as a minor?

As you have already seen, you must have 18 to be able to participate in gameplay. However, we found some exceptions.

The most frequent one is the category D gaming machine, which is comprised of:

  1. Fruit machine;
  2. Coin pusher;
  3. Crane grab machine.

Each has a predetermined stake that shouldn’t be exceeded.

Fact

Up until 2021, the legal age for National Lottery was 16 and above. This year, however, the requirements changed to at least 18 years old, as a way to impede the early onset of potential addiction.

If the category D machine is safe to be accessed by people of all ages, we cannot state the same about one of the most common games, Bingo.

According to the UKGC, you can enter a place that has Bingo, even if you are a minor, but you are not allowed to engage in any gambling activities. Yet, these clubs would generally rather not accept people under 18.

Tips

  1. Recent years have brought multiple changes in the UK legal system. The information you extract from different auxiliary sources may not be up-to-date.
  2. We are always attentive to the newly established provisions and constantly refresh our pages. You can count on us for providing reliable information according to the market standards.

Effects of gambling at an early age

Even though some games are permitted before the age of 18, their use can have a significant impact on the players themselves, especially when it comes to mental health.

And everything can start with a casual game night with the family or friends.

In fact, according to a gambling addiction study posted on the official UKGC website, 41% of problem gamblers stated that they participated in such games with their parents.

Needless to say, children who grow up with parents who gamble are more likely to develop a severe form of addiction further on. And the effects are devastating, as they usually end up in a critical mental stay, bankrupt and socially isolated.

This prompted UKGC to enforce its policy and revise its strategy in order to reduce the risk of minor gambling, at least on online platforms.

Recommendation

  1. Since gambling may have such serious effects upon the child’s personal development, it is crucial to take some steps against minor gambling addiction and know how to prevent the child’s access to such websites.
  2. Our experts put their knowledge to good use and created a guide that teaches you what various programs you can use to block your child’s access to these sites, as well as multiple support groups and agencies.

Gambling regulatory bodies

We’ve seen the multitude of games and their set legal age for each one, it’s time to see the institutions that regulate them.

We can divide them into two categories:

  • UKGC for England, Scotland and Wales (that runs under the Gambling Act 2005);
  • Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985 specifically for Northern Ireland.
  • The Isle of Man Gambling Supervision Commission (GSC) regulates gambling on the Isle of Man.

They apply to brick-and-mortar and online casinos and also include betting and the national lottery.

Fact

As of September 2021, Northern Ireland has been taking steps to give the current Bill the status of law. One interesting provision relates to using the funds earned by casinos to support institutions that deal with gambling addiction.

How do online casinos check if you have the legal gambling age?

UK online casinos are extremely strict when it comes to identity verification. This is a result of UKGC’s enforced policy which strives to eliminate the risk of underage gambling.

Complying with UKGC’s directives, casinos have introduced the so-called KYC (Know Your Customer) check, to be performed by everyone who wants to gamble on their websites.

Tips

Players must send a series of documents known as Personal Identifiable Information, to attest their identity, for example, a driver’s license copy, utility bill or bank statement.

And, to add even more security, these checks are conducted regularly by casino operators to certify that the person who has access to such sites possesses the legal gambling age to engage in these activities.

The KYC procedure, in itself, is much more complex, and its purpose spreads among multiple branches, like responsible gambling, anti-money laundering and many others. It is important to get accustomed to the KYC check if you want to know exactly what to expect from an online casino.

How do land-based casinos check if you have the legal gambling age?

If you believe that online casino rules are pretty strict when it comes to confirming the legal gambling age, the same thorough verification takes place in brick-and-mortar ones.

This time, players must present an ID, right at the entrance, along with their phone number. In this instance, as opposed to the online world, this type of verification implies another factor other than gambling: alcohol serving.

Many land-based operators put several drinks at the players’ disposal as part of the overall casino atmosphere. So, naturally, the degree of responsibility is much higher.

What happens if you get caught gambling under 18 in the UK?

First things first, you should know that participating in gambling activities while under 18 years old is considered an offence and, thus, is punishable by law.

At the same time, casino sites that do not abide by the law and include minors in their activities (in any shape or form) also face serious penalties.

Let’s see what exactly happens to each!

What happens to the player?

The United Kingdom is very strict when you disobey any law that concerns gambling. Its yearly national goal is to come up with even more reliable and complex strategies to keep children and young people away from this type of activity.

Thus, the Gambling Act 2005 stipulates the various consequences you may face, depending on the degree of your offence, followed by the UKGC. Be aware that these range from fines to imprisonment.

Important

In case players engage in any actions that may look suspicious, the gambling platform will close their accounts and even permanently ban them from that particular website and its sister sites.

What happens to the casino operators?

Players who break the law concerning the gambling age limit in the UK are not the only ones held accountable.

Actually, online and offline casinos must also make sure to strictly follow all UKGC provisions and regulations that came into force until the present day, such as rigorous and permanent KYC and AML checks.

Similar to minor gambling, the penalties for this illegal behaviour are drastic and, besides the legal consequences that may arise, the entire company could be forced to close its doors forever.

The employment of minors is also illegal!

Not only does a casino have the responsibility to prevent underage people from accessing their facilities, but they must also prevent children from engaging in any gambling related activity, included but not limited to employment. Otherwise, they may receive up to 51 weeks in jail.

Thus, it is crucial to understand and remember your rights and obligations every time you get in contact with a gambling platform, on the one hand, to know your restrictions, and, on the other, to have valid premises in case your rights are infringed.

Throughout our entire process of collecting information and putting piece by piece together, our team of professionals had one primary goal in mind: informing players on the current legal gambling age in the UK, along with its effects and the consequences of a possible infringement.

Therefore, we needed to resort to the present legal framework concerning gambling in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as well as the institutions that regulate both land-based and online casino activities.

So, here are our two main types of sources that became our focal point in the research process.

Primary Sources – When in doubt, go to the officials

Our first stop was the Gambling Act 2005, which addresses the casino industry in England, Wales, and Scotland. It provided us with essential information about how each and every type of game is being monitored, considering the legal gambling age in the UK or the different levels of offences and their repercussions, among others.

Then, we focused on the latest provisions released by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission in all three countries mentioned above.

Now, since the gambling market in Northern Ireland is regulated by the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985, our team also analysed its current policies and impact throughout the years.

Recommendation

If you encounter a casino related aspect that raises some questions regarding its legal status, we advise you to first resort to official regulatory institutions and even contact them, if necessary.

For example

We applied this principle when we learnt how to manage a casino dispute, especially concerning various ADR Agencies that UK players may contact if their rights are being infringed.

Secondary Sources – external information is key

Besides the official documents and current legislation presented earlier, CasinoAlpha’s team of experts also consulted various press releases and articles that debate this matter locally, within the United Kingdom, but also offer a global perspective.

We also wanted to extend our analysis to other domains related to gambling, such as gaming, to discern how they influence each other.

References

AuthorAdela MariutaAuthor & Editor at CasinoAlpha

Adela enjoys exploring the industry in-depth and gathering insights to provide useful guides and casino reviews meant to help players throughout their online gambling journey. When she’s not venturing into the gambling universe, she likes taking long drives and listening to old-school tunes.

ReviewerTudor TuriceanuCEO & Chief Editor at CasinoAlpha

Tudor Turiceanu uses his multiple systematic skillsets to oversee and coordinate the CasinoAlpha project. He assists the authors in creating a transparent gambling niche for users. As a CEO and Chief Editor with broad knowledge, Tudor knows the importance of transmitting confident advice.