Updated on May 1st, 2019
The UK and US have long been considered to have a ‘special relationship’. That’s not just because both speak English as a first language, but because they hold similar cultural characteristics. Both are democracies, have mostly white-collar economies, and are made up of a patchwork of distinct cultures.
However, one particular area where the UK and US differ in their attitudes is gambling. Residents of the UK may be surprised to hear that the US is and has been historically stricter on gambling than they are – especially as Las Vegas is such a famous gaming hotspot. On the other hand, US citizens may be shocked by how far gambling has permeated into UK society – with betting shops lining streets nationwide and online gambling adverts frequently seen on TV.
Let’s compare the gambling landscapes in both countries.
Gambling In The US
In the US, all types of gambling fall under strict regulations. Some states like Hawaii and Utah have outlawed it completely, while others allow state and charitable lotteries. Many have pockets of localised gambling in certain areas of the state, like Native American-owned casinos run on tribal land. Certain cities have been built on gambling and the revenue that it provides, like Atlantic City and Las Vegas, and actively promote it.
Vegas, particularly, is a mecca for gamblers from all corners of the world. However, it still carries the echoes of its past, when organised crime ran the casinos. The phrase ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ exists because of the popular attitude that the city is somewhere people can get away with behaviour that is unacceptable elsewhere. Indeed, perhaps it’s this element of Vegas that makes it so appealing – as its impressive tourism figures illustrate.
Gambling In The UK
Gambling was legalised in the UK in the 1960s, allowing the government to take control of the industry and impose regulations which help keep players safe and ensure casinos pay taxes and operate under licence. In return, having a well-regulated industry adds respectability to the gambling sector – implicitly making it a more acceptable way for people to spend their time.
The UK has taken casino games and betting out of the shadows in a way that the US has not, and their economy benefits hugely from it. Last year alone the gambling sector employed over 100,000 individuals and generated a taxable revenue of £14 billion.
While the UK lacks a cornerstone location associated with gambling like Vegas, giving America a huge advantage over the UK in terms of drawing in gambling tourists, gambling has thrived in the country. Less restrictive laws have allowed casinos to pop up in most of the large cities like London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Cardiff – to name a just a few.
All have multiple casino venues ranging from exclusive members-only clubs with serious clientele and high stakes, to the more casual establishments frequented by groups of friends on nights out. This doesn’t even take into account the number of sports betting shops that dot the highstreets or the bingo halls which have been part of the national identity for half a century.
Online Gambling In The US And UK
The US and its overall attitudes towards gambling could be restricting the growth of a potentially very profitable industry – online gambling. In fact, it is the 1961 Wire Act, originally established to prevent organised crime laundering money across state lines, that is hampering the online gambling industry from establishing a base in the US. In the US, all forms of online gambling are stuck in a legal grey area, where some state laws allow them – but the overruling federal law does not.
Online gambling is a huge part of the UK economy, with 37% of all gambling revenue generated online in 2018. And the reason is clear – online gambling is more engaging and immersive than ever before, with high-end graphics, quick playing speeds and cross-platform availability attracting players in their droves. Players don’t have to head to a physical casino to play their favourite games. All they have to do is visit a reputable online casino anytime, anywhere, using any device.
Online gambling is regulated in the same way as the rest of the industry. Online casinos must be granted a licence to operate, which involved adhering to the UK Gambling Commission’s rules about fair play and responsibility – plus anti-money laundering conditions that require knowledge of all player identities and sources of funds.
In return, UK customers can tell which sites are reputable, and therefore make an informed choice on which of the many online casinos to visit. This firmly gives UK gamblers more options and better opportunities to gamble online, when compared to their transatlantic friends.
Changes On The horizon?
There have been recent signs that the US are mellowing in their staunch approach towards gambling. Earlier this decade, many Americans celebrated as the ban on online sports betting was lifted. This gave way to hope that it would signal a change in attitude that would eventually spread to all other forms of online gambling.
However, in early 2019, this year the Department of Justice reversed its decision, halting the progress that had been made towards establishing an online market to match the magnitude of the UK’s. This is where UK gambling has the edge over its bigger, brasher counterpart.
Gambling in the UK is far more accessible and easier to understand, because the laws are universal. Tourists visiting the country can be certain that they’ll be engaging legally with both online and land-based casinos. Visitors to the US cannot have the same certainty without doing their research first.
It’s not all rosy within the UK, though. Recent legal reviews have centred on raising taxes paid by different gambling sectors and increasing checks and measures put in place to ensure providers act responsibly towards their players. One such measure is the limit placed on fixed odds betting machines in high street betting shops. Designed to stop habitual gamblers from losing too much money, the changes have upset the industry who worry their profits will take a nose dive.
With both US and UK gambling industries facing changes, it could be an interesting time for gamblers both sides of the Atlantic. While it seems that the UK wins the race for safe, accessible and enjoyable online casinos, the US remains undoubtedly the country with the most famous and spectacular physical casinos. While land-based gambling venues and high-street bookies in the UK are in slow decline, the growth of its online sector more than makes up for the shortfall. In the US, there is no such balancing act. If the US bows to public pressure to legalise online gambling, who knows what the future will be for places like Las Vegas?