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Last update: 15th November 2018
Up until November 2014, a bingo site that was totally based abroad with NO physical presence in the UK at all could be legal for UK players. This was because of the existence of the “UK Whitelist” which meant that gambling sites regulated in Malta, Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Alderney or Antigua & Barbuda were treated as if regulated in the UK.
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?
Despite the requirement to have a UK licence, the answer is no, not really. They do have 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. Most of the sites which were regulated somewhere on the whitelist were given UK continuation licences at the time of the regime change, but the UK Gambling Commission is much more draconian than the offshore licensing operations were and has been slowly cracking down on bad behavior ever since. The first high profile casualty was Metro Play and there have been many cases of multi million pound fines and other enforcement actions – details of which can be found by following the operator’s link to the Gambling Commission site. For example, the entry for 888 UK Limited contains details of the huge fine they incurred in August 2017.
The Virtue Fusion sites that belong to big British names such as Bet365 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 and Take A Break Bingo are covered by Virtue Fusion (Alderney)’s own licence. Sun Bingo and Fabulous Bingo are a special case, as their licence is held by a 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 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 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 her successor Paddy McGuinness, 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 Tombola’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.
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. Mecca Bingo is one of the few sites still to have charity involvement in the form of the Rank Cares initiative.
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 Buzz Bingo and/or betting shops – e.g. Betfred. Another form of UK bricks and mortar presence is seen at Tombola – although they have servers in Gibraltar, their new £5m HQ is in Sunderland and they provide employment and training for a great many game designers and web developers in the North East. Then there’s Paddy Power – although they are an international organization whose head office is in Dublin, they also have offices in Hammersmith and 100+ betting shops in the UK.
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.