How Do Gaming Laws Differ Between the US and UK?

In relative terms, the United States of America and the United Kingdom have similar legal systems and laws, at least when compared to many other countries in the world.

The US Supreme Court made sports betting legal in 2018

Of course, there are huge divergences in some areas. The US is a constitutional republic with the most famous codified constitution in the world. In contrast, the UK is a constitutional monarchy and is one of just a handful of nations to not have a constitution that has been written down, along with New Zealand, Saudia Arabia, Israel, Oman, and Libya.

The court systems are very similar, acquiring their legal authority from precedents set in previous cases and much of the oldest US precedents were adopted from Britain. And since both countries subscribe to many of the same fundamental guiding principles, the majority of the same things are considered crimes.

One area where the two countries have a sharp contrast in terms of legislation has been around betting. To the uninitiated, this may be hard to believe since the two countries also share many similar cultural values. Yet, with the exception of Nevada and a couple of other states, most sports betting was actually illegal in the United States until 2018. Whereas, across the pond, the United Kingdom has one of the most liberal betting markets in the world.

You could have been excused for thinking this would have been the other way around; after all, the US is home to Las Vegas, the city with the most casinos in the world, while the UK is yet to see a Vegas-style integrated resort be constructed on its shores. Here are some of the other differences in gaming laws between the UK and US that you may not have been aware of.


Bonuses are an important tool for online casinos and betting sites. They play an integral role in the marketing mix and are often featured in promotional material. There are, as you would expect, a lot of rules about bonuses, all of which are designed to protect the consumer and ensure that everyone is plays fair.

The major principles are the same in both countries. Rather than prescribing exactly what can and can’t be offered as a bonus, rules focus on the terms of bonuses being fair and transparent. In the UK, the Gambling Commission works with other government bodies to ensure bonuses are offered and promoted fairly to consumers. In the US, this duty falls on the regulator in each state.

Despite sharing the same overarching principles, we do see American companies offering larger bonuses. For example, in the UK, William Hill offers free bets worth up to £30, while in the US, its customers can take advantage of a risk-free bet of up to $500. This is less a result of legislative differences and more down to market conditions with American brands pushing hard to build market share in new states.

A Uniform Approach?

Neither country takes a uniform approach to gaming. The US is famous for being a federal country made up of states that have autonomy in most matters, with the federal government stepping in on select occasions. This means that each of the 50 US states gets to make their own rules on betting, with some like Utah choosing to ban all forms outright, and others like New Jersey and Nevada choosing to allow almost all forms of wagering.

Since the striking down of PASPA by the Supreme Court in 2018, more than a dozen states have allowed online sports betting, with some also choosing to legalise poker and casinos at the same time.

This mish-mash of different rules does get complicated for consumers, especially if they’re travelling across the country. It can also lead to frustration for sports fans in states where online wagering isn’t allowed, while their neighbours have the freedom to bet on any sport from anywhere in the state.

In the UK, things are a little more straight forward, though not as uniform as you might think. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is actually made up of four separate nations: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The first three are located on the island of Great Britain, while Northern Ireland can be found on the north-eastern portion of the island of Ireland, across the Irish Sea. Each nation has its own parliament and is free (to some degree) to make its own laws, similar to a US state.

Betting laws in Northern Ireland are different from the rest of the UK

This is why betting laws in Northern Ireland are different from Great Britain. In the latter, wagering is legislated for by the Gambling Act 2005 and regulated by the Gambling Commission. However, Northern Ireland hasn’t updated its legislation since 1985, meaning online betting companies can’t currently operate within its borders. That said, Northern Irish residents can still bet online, provided they can find an overseas site.

Data Protection and Verification

Legislators on either side of the Atlantic have taken very different approaches to their gaming when it comes to geo-restrictions and data protection. In the UK, companies that want to accept bets from British residents must register with the Gambling Commission, but these companies are also free to accept bets from customers elsewhere in the world (provided their country also allows it).


However, in the United States, strict geo-restrictions must be enforced by each operator. This is to prevent inter-state wagering, which is still not permitted under federal law. As a result, GPS data, IP numbers, addresses, and Social Security data are used to identify and locate each customer, before allowing them to place bets. This has the side effect of preventing customers from outside the US from using US sites, also preventing the country from exporting its iGaming services like the UK does.


In both countries, Know Your Customer (KYC) checks are also required to prevent money laundering and other organised criminal activity, but laws around the way data is stored and processed are different.


The UK, through its former membership of the European Union, has enacted the General Data Protection Regulations into law through the Data Protection Act 2018. This places strict obligations on gaming companies (and any other company) that store and process data of British and European consumers. This is the same throughout the entire UK and comes with serious penalties for companies that are found to be in breach, including fines of 4% of annual global turnover or £18 million (whichever is greater).


In the US, data protection isn’t as clear cut. The Federal Trade Commission has enforcement powers where companies are acting deceptively or where federal data protection regulations aren’t followed. However, each state also has its own data protection laws, meaning the same mish-mash of rules applies across the country.