Online Gambling Regulations and the Role of Licensing Authorities
Before an online gambling site signs up its first customer, before it accepts its first bet, before the first card is dealt, it must be licensed by a recognized governmental entity.
Why, you ask? Because (most) banks won’t deal with an unlicensed sites, and neither will the various credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard.
Yes, that’s right. We followed the money, and as it turns out, it was a very short walk. You want to take bets? Prove you’re at least legitimate enough to have a license from some governmental agency.
So that’s it — just get some government to sell us a license in exchange for some money, and we’re good to go? Well, no. If it were as simple as that, we’d all have an online casino or betting site, and the world would be a very different place.
While it is true that the early Gold Rush days of internet gambling were exciting, dangerous, lawless days indeed, today’s online gambling operators will find that even the mildest and most indulgent licensing governments are not simply rubber stamps for their license to print money.
Below we explain exactly what the online gambling licensing authorities do. We then look at the regulatory requirements that each licensing authority puts in place.
What Do Licensing Authorities Do?
Obviously, the first licenses issued to online gambling operations required fees, both of the up-front and the annual renewal kind. But even then, most of these licensing governments also required the online operation to meet certain minimum standards of reliability, security, and fairness.
Today, pretty much all governments that issue licenses to online gambling operations (we’ll call them “licensing jurisdictions” for clarity’s sake) have a specific list of rules that online gambling establishments must follow.
Beyond the ubiquitous licensing fees, the most common requirements are as follows.
- “Fit and proper person” test for owners and senior management.
- Regular periodic testing and validation of random number generator (RNG) software
- Observe a list of permitted (and prohibited) clientele
- Publish and maintain current data on each offered game’s return to player (RTP)
- Provide telephone, email, and/or online chat customer support
- Display elapsed playing time in all gaming software
- Establish limits on deposits
- Establish and observe waiting periods on limit increases
- Respond quickly and fairly to complaints
What do the licensed sites get in return? Good question. Aside from the legitimacy and financial trust afforded by the license, the gambling sites gets very little — if you count legal access to the marketplace of eager gamblers of entire nations to be of small consequence.
Still, the true beneficiary of licensure is the player. In addition to improving and ensuring the reliability and honesty of the online casinos and betting sites, many — but not all — licensing jurisdictions provide customer dispute centers or hotlines where players can register complaints about gambling sites under their purview.
Let’s now take a look at the various online gambling licensing authorities around the world and examine the specific regulations they enforce on their licensees.
One caveat: Reliable information about many of the licensing jurisdictions — particularly the smaller ones such as Tasmania and Cyprus — is difficult to find. Whenever possible, we have used as a primary source the appropriate gaming authority’s own website and published materials, while in other cases, we have had to rely on trustworthy secondary sources such as law firms specializing in online gambling licensure.
We have omitted any information (readily found on various other gambling-related sites) that could not be substantiated using the aforementioned primary and secondary sources.
Here’s a list of all the licensing authorities covered here. You can use the following links to jump straight to a specific authority.
You would think that an island barely three square miles in size and possessing all of 2,000 human inhabitants would not have much influence in the world of online casino licensure (or anything else, for that matter), but Alderney would fool you.
In 1999, the tiny British Crown dependency of Alderney established its Alderney Gambling Control Commission (AGCC) and began issuing licenses to online casinos, adding in 2009 additional rules and regulations, and then in 2018 some amendments to further define “egambling” and to introduce more distinct ordinances.
The AGCC actually splits licensure into two main separate licenses: one for the organization that registers new players and handles all financial transactions (Category 1) and one for the platform that actually provides the online gaming itself (Category 2).
This recognizes and formalizes the relationship between the company and its (potentially many) clients residing at different URLs. For example, a Category 1 license may be issued to FinancialFred.com, which will be responsible for all financial and membership activities of its Category 2 licensed clients youcanwinbigly.com, youcantlose.com, and biggerwinners.com.
Initial licensing fees can range from £17,500 to £35,000 for the first year of operation. Annual renewal fees range from £35,000 all the way up to £400,000 for those Category 1 licensees generating net revenue in excess of £30 million.
While the AGCC lists fewer than a dozen Category 1 licensees, collectively they represent nearly 40 distinct online casinos.
Antigua and Barbuda
In 1994, the nation of Antigua and Barbuda passed legislation to change its gambling license law to allow foreign bookmakers to accept bets across national lines. Even then, this was interpreted as legalizing online gambling and made Antigua and Barbuda the first nation to do so.
Since that time, the Division of Gaming (under the authority of the country’s Financial Services Regulatory Commission) has developed two types of online gambling licenses: one for interactive gaming (e.g., online casinos and poker rooms) and one for interactive betting (e.g., sportsbooks).
Regardless of the type of license, Antigua charges applicants a non-refundable Due Diligence Fee of $15,000 to pay for “conducting investigations, due diligence and assessments of the applicant(s).”
Actual license fees differ, however, with the annual fee for an Interactive Gaming License set at $100,000 (US dollars) and the annual fee for an Interactive Wagering License set at $75,000. Oh, and there’s an additional annual licensing fee for either license set at $5,000.
Antigua also charges an annual Monitoring System Fee of $25,000, which pays for its monthly auditing of the online operation to determine the following.
- Number of players
- Financial liability to customers
- Anti-money-laundering compliance
- Evidence of problem gaming
- Evidence of under-age gaming
Almost in lock-step with Antigua, this tiny nation on the eastern seaboard of Central America (wedged in between Mexico and Guatemala) formed its own Belize Computer Wagering Licensing Board in 1995 with the Computer Wager Licensing Act (later revised in 2011).
Unlike many other licensing jurisdictions, Belize has a one-size-fits-all license that covers all forms of online gambling, including virtual casinos and sportsbooks. The annual fee for this license was initially set at $50,000, but in 2004, it was reduced to $15,000. The Licensing Board also requires any licensee to deposit $500,000 to be held in trust by Belize as indemnity against fraud or other violations.
With no online presence of its own, Belize is difficult to compare to other licensing jurisdictions.
Currently, online gambling sites licensed by Belize appear to number slightly more than a dozen, which is somewhat odd, given the comparatively low cost of the license (the half-million-dollar indemnity deposit notwithstanding) and that the requirements Belize demands of its licensees appear to be little more than a promise to be good and fair.
Oh, and licensees are prohibited from offering their services to Belize residents.
Costa Ricans like to brag that their country has more teachers than soldiers. They might do well to have some of those teachers look at the country’s nonexistence of online gaming laws and figure out why their country still serves as the licensing jurisdiction for a number of online gambling sites.
Yes, an operator merely has to incorporate as a Costa Rican company and pay a relatively small fee (between $5,000 and $10,000) for a business license (technically, a “data processing license”) from a local government in Costa Rica.
A couple of rudimentary rules do apply: the operator may not offer its services to Costa Ricans (who are prohibited by law from gambling online), and the operator must maintain an office in Costa Rica (although the site’s servers can be located anywhere in the world).
Unsurprisingly, while Costa Rica enjoyed being the licensing jurisdiction for hundreds of gambling sites back in the early gold rush days of the internet, the number of licensees has dwindled in recent years, probably owing to the bad reputation of unregulated sites earned over the years.
Or it could be due to the fact that fewer banks are interested in doing business (such as credit card processing) with online casinos licensed by Costa Rica.
Could be both. Either way, online gamblers should consider it a welcome development.
While Curaçao started offering online gambling licenses a year before its neighbor Antigua and Barbuda, it didn’t formalize the licensing process until 1996.
Curaçao offers two classes of gambling license: a Master license and a Sublicense. All gambling operators licensed in Curaçao have a Sublicense. There is a very simple reason for this: There have been only four Master licenses awarded in Curaçao since the mid-1990s. They are as follows.
- Cyberluck Curacao N.V. (Curacao-eGaming) #1668/JAZ
- Gaming Curacao (GC) #365/JAZ
- Curacao Interactive Licensing N.V. (CIL) #5536/JAZ
- Antillephone NV #8048/JAZ
Any of these four can issue a sublicense to another operator. In fact, the only difference between a Master and a Sublicense is that a sublicensee cannot itself issue sublicenses.
Fees for obtaining a sublicense from one of the master licensees vary but generally are in the neighborhood of $5,000 annually. Additionally, a one-time application fee of $1,100 will be charged. The operator must also pay an annual “e-zone” fee of around $280, and a tax of 2% is levied against the site’s net profits each year.
In terms of regulation of its licensees, Curaçao is a cut or two above Costa Rica but far below the stringency of, say, Alderney or Malta. Among its requirements are these.
- Annual audits of gaming software
- Confirmation of reliability of random number generators on a regular basis
- Proof that no one in the operation has a criminal record
Back in the gold rush days of online gambling (the 1990s through the first decade of the 21st century), the Greek-Turkish-owned island of Cyprus licensed any number of gambling sites. It was a popular licensing jurisdiction because it did not regulate online betting and gaming in any meaningful way.
That ended with the Betting Law of 2012, which reduced the permissible online gambling operations that Cyprus’s National Betting Authority would license to simple sports betting (no fantasy leagues here). Online bingo, poker, slots, roulette, and blackjack, for example, are all illegal.
So, you may find some sportsbooks out there with Cypriot licenses, and perhaps even one or two online casinos that claim or imply Cypriot licensure, but no Cypriot licenses are being issued for online casinos.
Surprisingly, Denmark enjoys a flourishing online licensing business, despite relatively high tax rates and a rather late arrival to the game. One of the UK’s original whitelisted jurisdictions (which made it possible for Danish licensees to serve the lucrative market of UK players), Denmark has a solid grasp of the necessary policies and procedures to effectively regulate the online gambling business.
In 2012, the Danish Gambling Act modernized Denmark’s approach to online gambling, which until that time had been the exclusive province of the government monopoly Danske Spil (Danish Lottery). Even today, the national lottery retains the exclusive license to sell luck-only items such as scratch cards and lottery tickets.
The act also created the Danish Gambling Authority, which regulates and licenses online casinos and betting pools. It currently lists 47 licensees (online casinos and pool betting combined). The licenses are issued for five years, although one-year, limited-revenue versions of both the online casino and pool betting licenses are available.
Among the criteria for obtaining an online casino license in Denmark are the following.
- Player funds must be kept separate in a “setoff-free” account at a bank
- Must implement the European Parliament’s Anti-Money Laundering Policy for iGaming Firms
- All software related to gaming must be tested and certified by organizations approved by Denmark
- Must possess adequate capital to engage in the business for which licensed
Application fee for either license is DKK 279,500 (about $42,500), and a combined online casino and betting license is currently DKK 391,300 (about $59,000). The application fee must accompany the application forms and — generally speaking — will not be returned if the application is declined.
Once issued, the license incurs an annual fee based on gross gambling revenue (stakes minus winnings) that can range from DKK 55,000 (about $8400) to DKK 5,000,000 (about $760,000). Additionally, the licensee’s GGR is subject to a 20% gaming tax and may be liable for a 28% corporate tax rate, as well, depending on the licensee’s corporate status in Denmark.
Gibraltar was another of the first “early adopters” of licensing online gambling sites. In 1998, this British-owned peninsula jutting from Spain’s southern coast began licensing online gambling operations. The Department of Finance and Gaming’s Gambling Division oversees licensure.
One of the most stringent and regulated of all gambling licensing jurisdictions, Gibraltar has become the gold standard for establishing reliability and trustworthiness. They even have a handy 54-page PDF guide entitled “Remote Technical and Operating Standards” to help would-be licensees understand what is expected of them.
Gibraltar charges an annual licensing fee of £100,000 (about $132,000) for all types of gambling operations, whether they be brick-and-mortar casinos, online casinos, or sportsbooks.
By the way, if you’ve got a spare £100,000 lying around and think that’s all it will take to get an online gaming license from Gibraltar, think again.
That’s according to the Gambling Division.
What, still not discouraged? Read this, from the Gaming Division’s website.
One might almost begin to suspect one is less than welcome to join the club, mightn’t one.
Isle of Man
This tiny island floating in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland has regulated gambling with its Gambling Supervision Commission (GSC) since 1962 — obviously long before the first bet was placed online, but it has kept up with developments in the gambling world quite well. Its approach to online licensing compares quite favorably to that of other British dependencies.
As early as 2001, the Isle of Man demonstrated its foresight with the Online Gambling Regulation Act (OGRA), which not only provided for the licensing of online casinos and sportsbooks but established all manner of regulations, prohibitions, and requirements pertaining to the nascent world of online gambling.
And over the years, the GSC has proven both perceptive and agile, currently requiring testing and certification of not only gaming software and auditing of financial practices but the testing of live dealer studios, as well. Additionally, only approved testing facilities may be used in these processes, and each must be formally approved by the GSC.
Today, the GSC lists on its website all licensees (and the online casinos each controls), as well as those licenses that have been suspended, making it very easy to ascertain whether a casino’s claim to Isle of Man licensure is true, valid, and active.
The GSC offers two main types of gambling licenses — the Full OGRA License and the Sublicense. The fee schedule for these is (as noted on the GSC’s website):
- £5,000 administration fee with the initial application (Full or Sub-license)
- £35,000 per annum thereafter, for a Full license
- £5,000 per annum thereafter, for a Sub-license
A full OGRA license permits the licensee to operate approved gambling activities, while a sublicense is applicable to gambling sites (typically subsidiaries or corporate children of the full licensees) that wish to use the full licensee’s gaming and financial processes.
There is a third type of license — for “Network Services” — which provides for the Full OGRA licensee already running any non-GSC-licensed gambling operations to allow the players already registered with that non-GSC operation to play on its GSC-licensed gambling operation without re-registering.
Officially called the Bailiwick of Jersey, this Channel island nation is a dependency of the British Crown, much like its neighbor, Alderney. Its Jersey Gambling Commission has had the primary responsibility of the regulation of gambling in Jersey since 2010, and its responsibilities expanded to include the licensing and oversight of online gambling in 2013.
Boasting no corporate or gaming taxes for online casinos, Jersey has become a solid value for operations seeking a low-cost entry into the online gambling arena.
Like Alderney, Jersey has a list of requirements each licensee must agree to, including certification by approved testing houses such as eCOGRA, GLI, and iTech. Note also that remote gambling operators must also register with the Jersey Financial Services Commission (JFSC) in accordance with the nation’s anti-money-laundering laws.
The application fee for a remote operator license is £5,000, and approved applications are subject to an annual license fee of £15,000. These licenses are granted with a five-year duration.
The Mohawk nation of Kahnawake (located on a small parcel of land along the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada) was among the first licensing jurisdictions to focus on online gambling, and the Kahnawake Gaming Commission has granted licenses to (and hosted on its own servers — a requirement for obtaining the license) hundreds of online casinos, poker rooms, and sportsbooks.
Established in 1999, the KGC was initially criticized for what some considered exorbitant fees it charged applicants — particularly in light of the fact that it did little to regulate or oversee the quality, reliability or fairness of those applicants.
Since then, the KGC has made great strides in regulation, developing a detailed 92-page set of rules governing the testing, certification, and licensing of online casinos, sportsbooks, and live dealer studios.
The KGC ostensibly offers only one type of online gaming license, and that is to the entity that hosts said services on Kahnawake land. Since 1999, the sole holder of that license has been Mohawk Internet Technologies (MIT), which runs a massive server farm in Kahnawake.
The actual online gaming licenses — called “Approvals” in the KGC’s regs — are broken into the three categories covered below.
Client Provider Authorization (CPA)
This is the actual online gambling license. It permits the CPA holder to operate any sort of online gambling operation from the MIT servers.
Application fee: $35,000, which includes the first annual fee and undisclosed amount the KGC claims for “due diligence.”
The KGC website maintains a current list of its CPA holders.
Inter-Jurisdictional Authorization (IJA)
This permits any entity licensed by another licensing jurisdiction to host some or all of its operations on MIT servers. Responsibility for testing and regulating the operation remains with the initial licensing jurisdiction.
Application fee: $2,000.
Live Dealer Studio Authorization (LDS)
This permits a live dealer studio to operate within Kahnawake territory.
Application fee: $25,000.
Key Person License (KPL)
Each holder of a CPA must also license at least one person who performs managerial or operational functions for the operation.
Malta considers itself the “The iGaming World Capital” and with good reason — it lists nearly 360 active gaming licensees on its website. A Mediterranean island directly south of the toe of Italy’s “boot,” the independent nation of Malta (formerly a British colony) joined the European Union in 2004.
Malta’s primary source of gambling regulation was founded in 2001 as the Lotteries and Gaming Authority (LGA) but changed its name to the Malta Gaming Authority in 2015. Regardless of name, this licensing jurisdiction continues as a global leader in online gambling regulation.
The MGA features four classes of remote gaming licenses.
- Class 1 covers online gambling operations that feature casino-type games such as table games, lotteries, and slot machines.
- Class 2 is directed toward pool and sportsbook operations.
- Class 3 covers player vs. player gambling operations, such as poker rooms.
- Class 4 actually licenses the gaming software vendors who themselves want to host and manage remote gaming operators having any class of the above.
Class 1 through 3 licenses cost an annual €25,000 (about $28,500), while the annual fee for a Class 4 license is €10,000. Additionally, licensees are charged a sliding and rather progressive scale of “compliance contributions” each licensing period.
With its Online Gaming Act of 2002, Panama joined the other nations eager to generate revenue from the newly-created online gambling craze.
In Panama, anyone (human or corporate) wishing to apply for an online gaming license must first enter a contract with the Gambling Control Board, which will then issue a license to the operator. Like many other licensing jurisdictions, Panama insists that its licensees not offer services to its residents.
Among the requirements for submitting an application for a license in Panama are the following.
- Have a legal representative in Panama
- Satisfactorily complete an investigation of integrity and history, and pay the corresponding costs thereof
- Have the necessary experience and knowledge for the effective management of the proposed operation
- Submit a Business Plan together with a study from a third-party firm demonstrating the feasibility of the projected business
License application fees are $40,000, and the annual license fee is $20,000 for each of the seven years the license will remain in effect.
The Philippines stands at the foot of the vast Asian gambling marketplace, and its Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) oversees all aspects of the licensing and regulation of online gambling.
While no licensee may do business with a Filipino resident, this is of little concern to the multitude of casinos that want a reputable Asian-facing license that CEZA offers.
Licensees must agree to a list of policies and procedures, including these.
- All systems (software, financial, etc.) are open to inspection
- Player’s account must be protected by PIN number or password, and all player records maintained in complete confidentiality
- Advertising must not encourage “irresponsible behavior” of players and must be both truthful and accurate
- Provisions must be made to identify and prohibit compulsive gambling
- Banking must be conducted in accordance with generally accepted standards of recognized international banking institutions
- Adequate funding must be maintained to pay all current obligations and maintain ongoing operations, with winnings and account balances paid promptly on demand
CEZA offers two basic licenses, one for online casinos and the other for sports betting. The online casino application fee is $80,000 (with subsequent annual renewal fee of $40,000), while the sports betting license application fee is $60,000 (with a subsequent annual renewal fee of $30,000).
A gambling operation may apply for a combined license, but there is no discount involved — the application fee for such a license is $140,000 (with an annual renewal fee of $70,000).
Unlike most licensing jurisdictions, CEZA also offers hosting to its licensees, charging online casinos 2% of monthly revenue and sports betting operations a flat $10,000 monthly fee.
St. Kitts and Nevis
Known more formally as the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis, St. Kitts has been a popular Caribbean vacation spot for westerners eager to get a little sun along with their gambling. The twin-island nation is home to three casinos catering to the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit St. Kitts annually.
Since 1999, the Saint Christopher and Nevis Gaming Board has drawn no distinction between brick-and-mortar casinos and their online cousins. As long as the online casino can pay an initial $80,000 (plus a $2,000 filing fee) and can pay another $40,000 as a gaming tax each year, they’re good to go.
Oh, also: the online casino is prohibited from offering its service to St. Kitts residents.
Besides the fees and taxes, here are some of the criteria for applying for and obtaining a gambling license from St. Kitts.
- Submit a business proposal to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Consumer Affairs
- A police report about the officers and shareholders
- A sworn statement that none of the officers and shareholders is an owner of a bank
- Establish an account with a St. Kitts bank that is licensed to process player transactions
- The Ministry has the right of approval on all casino advertising
- Online casinos cannot extend credit to any player
Tasmania’s Liquor and Gaming Commission (a branch of the Department of Treasury and Finance) oversees online gaming licensure of permissible online gambling operations such as sports betting, simulated gaming (e.g., fantasy leagues), betting exchanges, race wagering, totalizator, and major lotteries.
Unfortunately, the nation’s last important gambling legislation was the Gaming Control Act 1993 (back when the internet was mostly just a rumor), so Tasmania will not license any online gambling operation such as poker, or any other internet-based gaming activities apart from the few we’ve already listed.
What can you say about a licensing jurisdiction that not only allows you to apply for a gaming license online but even has its own Twitter account? The UK’s Gambling Commission (UKGC) has been regulating and licensing online gambling establishments in the UK since 2005 when the nation’s Gambling Act was passed into law.
The Gambling Commission has rules, regulations, and policies covering every aspect of online gambling, from software testing and certification to financial transparency and auditing procedures.
The UKGC has a wide range of specific licenses to offer, including five types of remote betting licenses (for instance, betting on real events and on virtual events requires two different licenses), several types of remote casino licenses, and a grab-bag of various industry and intermediary licenses.
The application fee for a remote casino license, for example, is based on annual gross gambling yield (gross profit after payment of winnings), and it ranges from £2,640 to £57,304.
The annual license fee for this same remote casino license is also based on annual gross gambling yield and ranges from £2,709 to £512,083 “plus £125,000 for each complete additional £500 million of annual gross gambling yield above £1 billion.”
Well, the Republic of Vanuatu may not have its own Twitter account, but you can follow them on Facebook — and they do have a website.
But don’t look there for information concerning an online gaming license. This tiny island-chain nation off the northeastern coast of Australia has turned over given authority for that to Global Gaming Regulators, Ltd. (GGR) — an independent third-party organization that oversees and administers all of Vanuatu’s online gambling licensing.
Although it is overshadowed by much larger and active players in the online casino world, Vanuatu was among the first nations to offer online gambling licenses, provided for with its Gambling Act of 2000. The Act, along with various regulations and policies put into place since then, requires compliance with a variety of foresighted and sophisticated rules — among them, an insistence that all gaming software be subject to regular testing and certification by authorized organizations.
Additionally, all licensees must make regular reports reconciling the various financial data such as player winnings vs. gross revenues.
An application for a Vanuatu Interactive Gaming License requires a non-returnable fee of $50,000, and upon approval, the licensee will pay an annual fee of $50,000. Additionally, licensees pay 2.5% of gross gambling revenues on a monthly basis.
Licensed to Operate
Even if you’re not in the market for an online gambling license, it is important to understand the restrictions and requirements of each licensing jurisdiction.
This can help you determine whether you want, for example, to do business with a particular casino or sportsbook.
It should also illustrate the importance of insisting an online gambling site you do business with is, in fact, licensed. If you can find no evidence that the site is licensed, walk away. While fraud and theft can happen anywhere, it is less likely to happen at a licensed online gambling site.
Note that all the recommended gambling sites we list on our website are licensed appropriately. We take great care to only recommend online casinos, sportsbooks, poker rooms, and other gambling sites that we know can be trusted.