How are bingo sites licensed?

People visit bingo sites for the fun, not the boring legal stuff. However, the boring legal stuff is incredibly important. It is what makes your fun possible because the site has to be licensed, and what keeps your money safe and the games fair because of the licensing rules and regulations.

Gambling Comission Logo
Gambling Comission Logo

Beneath the small print

Gamblers in the UK, whether playing bingo, using a casino or betting on sport, are incredibly lucky that gambling is licensed and monitored by the Gambling Commission.

The Gambling Commission is one of the world’s toughest regulators, which is good news for everyone. Operators have to pass a rigorous process to get a licence and continue to meet high standards to keep it, meaning they have to run a good business to operate here. Bingo players benefit from knowing that they are playing honest games that their money and details are safe and that there’s nothing bad or underhand linked to their game.

Checking the licence

Every site must have a licence to operate in the UK. Checking this is simple because the site has to display details of their licence on their homepage. You will be able to find this by scrolling to the bottom of the page where you should see the Gambling Commission logo and, nearby, the licence number of the site you are on. This should be a link, and if you follow it you will go to the page on the commission’s website with details of the licence, along with any action the commission has taken, if any.

Other logos

You will probably see some other logos and licences alongside the Gambling Commission. Many sites choose to display details of the licences they have from other jurisdictions or the seals from the test houses they use to ensure their games are fair.

These are displayed to provide further reassurance of the sites quality and to allow them to operate the same site in multiple countries. The only one you need to see if the Gambling Commission’s, and if that isn’t there it’s a site you probably don’t want to use.

How UK licensing works

While a site will have a licence you can check there are, underneath that, a whole series of licensed individuals and organisations that are needed to get the final site licence.

Personal licences

Ultimately, someone has to run the site and the Gambling Commission will have licensed those people as well. To get a licence the commission will require the operator has a people working in a number of key positions, and to make sure they have the right people they will have to hold individual licences.

These licences qualify them to work in specific jobs, just like a doctor needs a licence to practise or a driver to drive. To be granted a personal licence the individual will have to have specific qualifications or experience, depending on the type of licence, and will also have to pass a criminal records check.

Operator licences

A site will need to run the technical side of a casino and to accomplish this will need to have the necessary equipment and software, usually provided by a third party. Whoever provides these will need to be licensed by the Gambling Commission as well.

This means the Gambling Commission will have checked the providers and their wares to ensure they are suitable. For example, that the server and network is secure and not vulnerable to attacks or manipulation that might rig a game. Or that the software developer is creating games that are fair and behave as expected and don’t have hidden features that might skew a game.

Test house licences

While not directly linked to the operation of a bingo site the Gambling Commission licence a number of test houses. As their name suggests, they will test the site to make sure it meets the necessary standards. These tests will range from analysing the random number generator to make sure that it really is random to trying to trick staff to gain access to the system or information.

Anyone wanting to run a site will have to have an agreement in place with a licensed test house to regularly test their systems, technical and human, and policies.

The site licence

Finally, the Gambling Commission will licence the site. This is a lengthy process, usually taking around four months. As well as checking the relevant licences are in place for the people and companies it will look at things like the business plan, the wider organisation and ownership structure and the financial backing.

Only when the Gambling Commission is satisfied will they issue a licence that allows the site to operate in the UK. Getting a licence is demanding, and not something that can be easily managed. However, it provides players with huge assurance that their bingo site is safe and fare.

Unlicensed sites

It is impossible to fully police the internet. While it is illegal for a gambling site to operate within the UK without a licence that does not mean there are not unlicensed sites, and you might come across these from time to time.

Interestingly it’s not illegal to use an unlicensed site. This stems from the very practical reason that it would be close to impossible to find and then prosecute someone playing a game of bingo on an unlicensed site. And even then most people would have a good defence that they hadn’t realised the licence was missing from the small print. Instead, the Gambling Commission will attempt to prosecute sites offering games illegally. They can also make life very difficult for them, many payment providers, for example, have agreed to withdraw services from illegal sites.

In fact, there are some reasons why unlicensed sites might be better. Because of the costs of operating are lower the prizes might be more generous, and because there are no restrictions on using licensed games there might be a wider choice. However, the risk is that a lot of the protection and safeguards you can take for granted as lost when you use an unlicensed site.

The benefits of licensed sites

By playing on a licensed site you can expect high standards and a series of safeguards, even if you don’t notice them while you are dabbing your numbers! Many of these are things you are unlikely to even think about unless you need them, but if you do, you will be grateful for the commission’s work.

Using a licensed site will bring the following benefits:

A UK licensed site will be open about the way it operates, so you can find out exactly how certain situations will be managed and what you can expect. This will include details of game rules, instructions and clear indications of the return-to-player, where applicable, alongside details of the prizes and payouts, including details of progressive jackpots.

Information about your play will also be clear, so you can easily find out your balance and how you’ve spent money. Any money that is going to be charged will also be made clear to you, so you know exactly how much a transaction will cost you before you confirm it.

There will be clear rules on what will happen if there’s a system error. And if it does happen while you are playing you’ll be notified of it and what steps need to be taken to resolve any problems.

Sites are not allowed to mislead you, so if they offer you free games they must be under the same conditions as a normal game. They cannot make wins easier just to entice you and then pay less when you are paying.

Finally, all UK sites must be committed to responsible gambling, helping people find help if they have a problem and having systems in place so customers can easily set up cool-down periods or self-exclude from gambling altogether.

If you need to complain

While rare, things do sometimes go wrong, and you need to complain. The Gambling Commission requires all sites to have a clear complaints policy, and monitor the complaints made. This will generally involve an initial complaint, often through the site’s customer services. If you are unhappy with the outcome, you can escalate the complaint with the site.

If you are still unhappy with the outcome you can complain to what is known as an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider. These are independent bodies who will consider both sides of the complaint and then make direction. These are binding up to £10,000, although the Gambling Commission recommend that sites consider it binding to any level. Every site is required to have an ADR process, and, like so much else, the ADR provider must be approved by the commission.

The bottom line

The vast majority of bingo players will never need to think about licensing. It is something that happens behind the scenes and makes no difference to the enjoyment they get from the game. For a small number, the protections offered by the licensing regime will make a huge difference, perhaps helping ensure a complaint is resolved.

All bingo players, however, can be grateful that by living in the UK they have a world-leading regulator protecting them and making sure they don’t need to worry when they are playing the game they love.

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