The United Kingdom is something of a bettor’s paradise. Traditionally, the countries of England, Scotland, and Wales have been home to a gambling-friendly culture. Since the passage of the Betting & Gaming Act of 1960, sports betting has been a part of the UK’s cultural landscape.
But gambling has a much longer history in this part of the world – gambling houses were the number one social setting for people in the 16-1700’s, and most of the modern cultural sights in the UK were at least in part funded by lotteries. The British Museum, for example, was almost entirely funded from sales of lottery tickets sold expressly for that purpose.
Lying as it does (both culturally and on the map) immediately between the European landmass and that of America, it is no surprise that gambling in the UK is a blend of both old-school European and modern American traditions. From continental Europe comes a passion for games like baccarat and Pontoon, and from America, a cultural obsession with fruit machines and modern forms of sports wagering.
The category of betting where the UK really shines is, in fact, sports. The world’s best-known and most influential online sportsbooks are headquartered in the UK – names like William Hill, Ladbrokes, and Intertops are all benchmarks for the rest of the industry, and all are of UK (specifically British) origin. A transition from kiosk wagering only to the availability of phone and then Internet wagers has led to a huge increase in the revenue stream for these sports wagering businesses – and the launch of a thousand knockoff sportsbook sites focused on other markets.
Let’s take a longer look at the best available UK online sportsbooks, as well as notes on gaming law in the UK, popular UK deposit methods, and other features of the roaring UK-based sportsbook market.
Are UK Online Sportsbooks Legal?
The short answer: Yes, but with a couple of important restrictions. Citizens of England, Scotland, and Wales are well within their rights to place wagers on sports on the Internet, provided those wagers take place according to restrictions put in place by the UK Gambling Commission:
The minimum gambling age for all Internet wagering in the UK is 18.
They’re pretty serious about this one – both local and national penal codes in all parts of the UK apply special penalties and fees both for bettors who wager underage and the sites that accept their illegal wagers. This age was set because of financial restrictions put in place by the banks and other institutions that process payments to and from online sportsbooks. In short, online bettors in the UK regularly use financial products that require a minimum age of 18 for issuance.
Sites that offer bets to UK citizens must obtain and maintain a specific form of remote gaming license.
This one isn’t really a concern for UK-based bettors, but rather for operators of sportsbook sites in the United Kingdom. If a site is caught operating without this specific license, it will be shut down and its assets can be seized. Criminal prosecution of individuals that work for the company is not unheard of, either.
The United Kingdom’s gaming commission accepts licensure from a big pool of licensing bodies from around the world, considering them equal to their own licensure. But keep your eyes on the news, because the government is considering no longer supporting these alternative licensures, and may require that all sites that are available to Britons, Scots, and the Welsh be licensed by the UK Gambling Commission.
The Gambling Act of 2005 has another important role in this question – that act was partially designed to address the very serious issue of problem gambling in the United Kingdom. It’s unclear at this point whether that aspect of the act was successful – here’s the quote I’m talking about: “… the gaming industry must act responsibly on the issue of addiction and gaming, requiring groups that offer online gambling, lottery games, and other contests of chance and skill to contribute.”
By that requirement, all UK-based sportsbooks and online casinos must contribute some of their revenue to anti-problem gaming campaigns. According to the UK Gambling Commission, the British arm of the industry alone contributes some £3 million annually to programs designed to battle gambling addiction and other gambling problems. But has it done much to stop the spread of this terrible disease? At this point, that issue is up for debate.
What to Look for in a UK-Facing Sportsbook
If you use just a little common sense, you can choose a good UK sportsbook based entirely on your personal preferences. That’s because the market is regulated by the government, so that highly-competent sites have flourished.
Bettors in the United Kingdom hold a huge advantage over the massive betting population found across the pond in the United States – they have legal access to all sorts of sportsbook properties, payment methods, and bonus offers. While the US restricts legal access to most of these things, bettors in the UK can use this advantage to shop around for the best possible features, or the ones that suit their needs the best.
Another advantage – it’s easier to identify legitimate online sportsbooks and do business only with above-board operators. Americans are at times faced with so few options that they’re forced to sign up with services that they know to be slow-to-pay (or worse) for the simple fact that they have no other options.
The same goes for the payment methods market – Americans are often forced to choose just one method (the one they have access to), while people in the UK can choose the one that makes sense for their budget, that’s the fastest, or that features whatever aspect they’re looking for in an online sportsbook.
Here are some features to consider when shopping for a United Kingdom-based sports betting site:
- Available Bonuses & Promotions
I like to use a site’s promotional program as a barometer of its overall value – and this has nothing to do with chasing actual bonuses. Sure, if you enjoy promotions like free wagers, loss rebates, and bonus cash, UK online sportsbooks are going to be a good fit. They use these offers the way shops use Buy-One-Get-One-Free offers and supermarket coupons – as incentives to place bets at their shop over the one at the URL next door. But even if you aren’t planning on chasing a welcome or reload bonus, or claiming a referral offer or a cash rebate, it’s good to look around at the bonuses a site is offering. Generally speaking, the more promotions that are available, the more trustworthy the betting site. Offering rewards requires that you have a decent cashier and legal department, and it also shows some measure of concern for the playing experience of their customers, which is always a good sign.
- Available Betting Markets
I’m not saying that you should only play at UK online sportsbooks that offer wagers in every sport known to man. Instead, when you’re researching a book before you sign up, just make sure that they offer all the markets you’re interested in. If you prefer to wager on American sports, like the NBA or Major League Baseball, it doesn’t make much sense to join a site that specializes in international football. Because you are wagering in the UK market, you don’t have the same safety concerns as bettors in other parts of the world, so it’s fair to be picky about the book you join.
- Deposit & Withdrawal Methods
Again, because you live in the UK, you’re going to have a lot more choice when it comes to payment methods than US-based bettors, or bettors in Australia. The UK market for payment methods is pretty much wide-open, so you have a ton of choice in this matter. So much choice, in fact, that you can and should leverage your deposit method when joining a book. If a sportsbook doesn’t offer you some sort of bonus or special perk for using the deposit method of your choice, just check out a new site. You’re bound to eventually find one that will offer you a special deposit bonus (usually 5-10%) just for using UKash or whatever UK-specific payment method you prefer. Be snobby, be demanding, and remember that since you have lots of other choices, it’s a buyer’s market.
Top Deposit Methods for UK Online Sportsbooks
Because UK online sportsbooks tend to be aimed at bettors outside of the United States, their list of available deposit methods tends to reflect what’s available to people in England, Scotland, Wales, and the rest of Europe.
The three deposit methods described briefly below are easily the most popular ones used by UK residents (and people outside the UK) to make deposits to the cashier accounts at their United Kingdom-based online sportsbook:
- Debit/Credit/Gift Cards
Because the credit market is wide open to games of chance and skill in the UK, deposits via branded debit, credit, or gift cards are extremely common, cheap or free depending on the rules of the book you’re looking at, and as easy to perform as any online purchase.
Though PayPal doesn’t allow deposits and withdrawals from American customers (and bettors from other markets), UK-based bettors can use their PayPal accounts to instantly send money to and from their online sportsbook accounts. This method rivals the use of branded cards in terms of convenience and cost, as it’s not hard to find a site that will happily accept your PayPal deposit free of all charge.
This isn’t a specific example of one deposit method used in UK sportsbook sites – rather an example of a whole family of options available to bettors in the UK and other parts of Europe. eWallets like UKash, Instadebit, Neteller, and Click2Pay are rabidly popular across Europe, and are used for all forms of retail shopping and bill paying.These aren’t just products designed for casino and sportsbook deposit and withdrawals. They’re legitimate financial products that most UK- and US-facing sportsbooks are all-too-happy to accept. It’s common to find special deposit bonuses for payments using a specific eWallet product.
The Best UK-Facing Online Sportsbooks
Here are brief reviews of the best online sportsbooks for players from the United Kingdom:
Bookmaker.eu is part of the BetCRIS family of online betting services. Bookmaker is a combo site but best known for its UK-focused sportsbook product. The site is currently running a welcome bonus promotion where first-time sportsbook depositors are eligible for a 50% bonus worth up to $300.
- mBit Sportsbook
mBit is a bitcoin sportsbook that is expanding to accept tons of different deposit methods. Though the whole bitcoin-exclusive thing was a cute gimmick at first, the site has set a goal of expanding their influence in the UK bookmaker industry, and to do that, they’ve had to change a lot of their terms and conditions and allow a variety of deposits. They’re also running a special welcome bonus – make your first deposit as a sports bettor and you’ll earn a 110% cash bonus with a low 4x bonus wagering requirement, maxed out at $200.
- Bet365 Sports
Bet365 has been in business since 2001, originally as a sportsbook only, but it’s now a full combination site with casino games, poker, and other betting options. First-time sportsbook depositors can earn a 100% deposit match bonus worth up to $200.
- William Hill
WillHill, as locals call it, is probably the premiere name in sports betting for the entire world. Though certain parts of the sports betting population are disallowed from accessing William Hill’s services (I’m looking at you, US bettors), it’s pretty much THE household name for sports gambling the world over.The company that runs William Hill was founded in the early 20th century, and they have probably the best reputation of any UK-based book. New sportsbook members are eligible for a free bet bonus worth up to $100, at a 100% match rate, based on your deposit.
- GTBets Sportsbook
GTBets is one of the youngest names on this list – open since 2011. GTBets is now a popular combination site, and one that accepts wagers from Americans to boot. You can place live in-play bets on sports, play and bet via mobile, or try your hand at their new attached casino and racebook sites. If you sign up at GTBets through Picks.org, they’ll give you a FREE $10 Super Bowl futures bet. You’ll also earn a 100% sign-up bonus worth up to $250, all for signing up right now through Picks.org. Take note – US players from the following states are restricted from opening a GTBets account: Louisiana, Maryland, Oregon, Missouri, New York, and Kentucky.
- BetOnline Sportsbook
BetOnline has been in the sports betting business since 2001. BetOnline is now a full-fledged combination site, and one that accepts business from UK and US players. You can earn a special 50% bonus up to $1,000 RIGHT NOW using our bonus code: “NFL15.”
UK-based online sportsbooks are some of the best-loved and best-reviewed in the world. Unfortunately, they tend to be closed to business from US players, thanks to restrictions on that country imposed by the 2006 UIGEA bill. For now, if you live in the UK, you have some of the most liberal gaming laws in the world to deal with, and as long as you’re 18 years old, you can take your pick of dozens of big-name sportsbooks willing to fight for your business with bonuses and other special offers.