On 1st November 2014, a massive change took effect on the world of online bingo. Prior to that, to be legal for UK play bingo sites could be licensed and regulated in any of the places that were on the “UK Whitelist” (this included Malta, Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Alderney and Antigua & Barbuda), so they could be totally based abroad with NO physical presence in the UK at all.
The situation now is that to be legal for UK play bingo sites must have a licence from the UK Gambling Commission, and it is extremely easy to check whether or not they do, as they are also required to display a link to a page at the Gambling Commission which shows their licence status. But is it really that simple?
- Do They Actually Have To Be Based In The UK?
- Are All Licences Created Equal?
- UK Licensing Arrangements – Bingo Software Overview
- The Feel of the Site
The answer is no, not really. There is a requirement to have a UK office address where documents can be served and they also have to pay tax in the UK on any transactions with players who are physically located in the UK but the bulk of operations, the servers and the chat hosts could perfectly well be located elsewhere and indeed many are.
Again the answer is no. Some bingo sites that were previously licensed somewhere on the whitelist are still operating under continuation licences which allow them to continue to trade in the UK while the Gambling Commission processes their application for a full UK licence. It is by no means certain that everyone who has applied for a full licence will actually end up getting one. Although it is difficult to imagine a big UK name like Mecca or Betfred not getting the UK licence, there has already been a high profile casualty in the form of Metro Play.
The Virtue Fusion sites that belong to big British names such as Bet365, Ladbrokes and Gala (and which offer other forms of gambling as well as just bingo and slots) have their own licences, while smaller ones such as Bucky Bingo, Scarlet Bingo and Deal Or No Deal Bingo are covered by Virtue Fusion (Alderney)’s own licence. Titanbet and Winner are special cases as their licence is held by Playtech subsidiary PT Entertainment Limited and they both have sites that are specifically for UK players only. Sun Bingo and Fabulous Bingo also make up a special case, as their licence is held by another Playtech subsidiary company, VF2011 Limited.
There are no network licence arrangements for Microgaming; operators of Microgaming bingo sites have their own licences. Some of these cover multiple sites; Betway’s licence, for instance, covers Dream Bingo and Bingo on the Box as well as Betway Bingo itself, and the Broadway Gaming licence that covers Butlers Bingo also covers several other sites.
The licence holder for all Gamesys powered sites is Gamesys (Gibraltar) Limited, at least for the time being. The high profile sale of some Gamesys sites to the Canadian Intertain group means that could change eventually.
The licence holder for all Daub Alderney powered sites (e.g. Kitty Bingo), and for the three UK sites powered by Leapfrog (Jackpot Cafe, Jackpot Liner and King Jackpot), is Daub Alderney Limited, a subsidiary of Stride Gaming.
The licence holder for all Bede Gaming powered sites is Intellectual Property and Software Limited.
The licence holder for the now defunct GTECH powered sites, and all Probability powered mobile bingo sites, is International Game Technology plc
The UK Gambling Commission licence shows that the site is safe, fair, socially responsible and UK legal – but it’s not just about that, is it? There’s quite a difference, in terms of player experience, between a site that is UK licensed but run from India or Israel with chat hosts in the Philippines, and one that is run in the UK with British chat hosts. In other words, all UKGC regulated sites may be British, but some are very much more British than others and that’s where the feel of the site comes into play. Here are some of the signs to look out for:
Endorsements or guest appearances by British celebrities show that the site has a proper insight into UK culture. Endorsements include Barbara Windsor as the Queen of Bingo for Jackpot Joy and of course Kerry Katona’s very own bingo site Bingo With Kerry, and guest appearances include Big Brother winner Brian Dowling presenting Sun Bingo‘s live show and Paddy Power‘s Bingo with the Stars promotions.
Gala Bingo‘s tie-ins with Coronation Street and Emmerdale, Mecca Bingo‘s tie-in with the X-Factor and Iceland Bingo‘s tie-in with I’m A Celebrity are just a few examples of this and again, it shows that the site is in tune with UK culture.
Whether it’s small scale sites like Tidy Bingo donating to Help For Heroes and Postcode Bingo donating to Dogs Trust, Foxy Bingo’s events in aid of Breast Cancer Campaign, or an industry giant charity initiative such as Rank Cares, supporting UK based charities is a very strong indication of commitment to the UK. Sadly this is becoming much less prevalent now that the profits of the bingo operators have been squeezed by the POC tax.
As Iceland Bingo and Sun Bingo show, this need not come in the form of anything gambling related. A well known chain of high street shops or a national newspaper will do very nicely, thank you! Of course there are also some big name bingo sites whose bricks and mortar presence in the UK is mainly in the form of bingo halls – e.g. Mecca Bingo – and/or betting shops – e.g. Betfred. Another form of UK bricks and mortar presence is seen at Bet 365 – although they no longer have any betting shops in the UK and have relocated their international operations to Gibraltar, they remain the largest private sector employer in Stoke on Trent and provide a substantial boost to the local economy.
You can’t get much more British than promotions offering Asda vouchers, Merlin passes, or trips to West End shows as prizes. If a site is offering these types of prizes on its promotions page, as is often seen at Sing Bingo and sister sites, that bodes very well for its having a truly British feel. Probably the best bingo site for this sort of prize is Gala Bingo; they frequently have prizes that money just can’t buy and perhaps the most quintessentially British of these was a day as an extra in Emmerdale for the winner’s pet – complete with hotel stay for pet and owner