Report Finds Unlicensed Online Gambling Doubles

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A new report by PwC (PriceWaterhouseCoopers) commissioned by the Betting and Gaming Council has revealed that the use of illegal online gambling sites, those not licensed in the UK by the UKGC, has more than doubled in two years.

The study shows that the number of customers using an unlicensed gambling website has more than doubled from 210,000 two years ago to 460,000.

The new data released this week is a follow on from the 2018-19 PWC study commissioned by William Hill and Entain, formerly known as GVC Holdings PLC, the owner of Ladbrokes, Coral, and well-known bingo sites Foxy Bingo and Gala Bingo amongst others.

Concerns have been raised that the strict measures imposed by the UKGC including affordability checks and the ban on credit cards in April 2020 are driving British gamblers to online casinos, betting, and bingo sites that are not licensed in the UK and therefore illegal.

Using four metrics the growth of unlicensed online gambling was measured by PwC:

  • public awareness of unlicensed operators,
  • public usage of unlicensed sites;
  • spending on such sites
  • The proportion of unlicensed sites that appear in Google search results.

A survey of 2,363 active UK gamblers was conducted in November and December last year and the results were surprising.

Use of Unlicensed Gambling Sites in the UK More Than Doubles

Public awareness of unlicensed gambling sites actually fell from 47% to 44%. However, both use and spending on unlicensed betting sites rose considerably.

The percentage of people that used an unlicensed online gambling site more than doubled from 2.2% to 4.5%, equating to approximately 460,000 people.

The gambling vertical which saw the highest growth of illegal site use was in fact Bingo! Over the two years, the use of unlicensed bingo sites increased 0.7% to 2.8%. Unlicensed Poker came second.

Web traffic data supported the survey figures. An increase of 85% traffic to unlicensed sites in Google was recorded over the two years.

Spending also doubled. The total spent on illegal gambling sites increased from 1.2% of total stakes in 2018 to 2.3% in 2020. In monetary terms, this would represent spending of £2.8bn, up from the £1.4bn in the previous survey.

What the Players Said

The survey asked British gamblers what the most important factors are when choosing an operator. The respondents listed trust first, followed by the convenience of withdrawal options and competitive odds.

However, players who used unlicensed gambling sites listed the ability to wager large amounts, the offer of different bets or games, and the ability to place live bets as being important.

According to the players, unlicensed sites offered easier registration processes a wider range of offerings, and easier withdrawals.

Affordability checks were not popular either.  Changes in registration requirements such as affordability checks could lead to a third of players look elsewhere.

If monthly stake limits were to be introduced, 18% of respondents stated they may look to other operators. Meanwhile, 27% of those surveyed said that they may gamble on unlicensed sites if maximum slot stakes were imposed.

Michael Dugher, BGC’s Chief Executive Comments on Survey

Michael Dugher, the BGC’s chief executive said:

“This new report by PwC is an impressive and comprehensive piece of work which demonstrates how the unsafe, unregulated black market is a growing threat to British punters. These illicit sites have none of the regulated sector’s consumer protections in place, such as strict ID and age verification checks, safer gambling messages and the ability to set deposit limits.”


“It is important to stress that the big increase in the black market is not an argument against more changes to the regulated industry, but an argument that we need to get them right. On the number of British punters using black market sites, the report by PwC report says: ‘Based on our survey, the proportion of UK online gamblers using an unlicensed operator has increased from 2.2% to 4.5% in the last 1-2 years”.


“Our survey found that share of online stakes with unlicensed operators had grown from 1.2% in 2018/19 to 2.3%. This corresponds to a doubling of stakes with unlicensed online operators from £1.4bn to £2.8bn,”


“I know this evidence is inconvenient to those who seek to dismiss and play down the threat of the black market, but there is a real danger of complacency. The UK risks sleep walking into changes where the main beneficiary is the unlicensed black market. We all have an interest in getting future changes right. So, must take heed of this latest evidence and look at what is happening elsewhere around the world,”

BingoDaily Thoughts on Illegal Gambling

From the very outset, BingoDaily has only featured and reviewed bingo sites and slots sites licensed in the UK with the United Kingdom Gambling Commission. We personally check each registration. Why? because the protection offered by licensed gambling sites in the UK is far greater than the protection offered by unlicensed sites. The UKGC has strict measures, some arguably too strict, but they are there to protect the British public.

Whilst we might not agree with all that the UKGC does, the problem of vulnerable gamblers should be paramount. Nevermore so than whilst in pandemic-related lockdowns. People are free to make the gambling choices they want. However, as always, it is important to choose wisely.

The PwC study looked at other countries for comparison. It noted that European countries with strict legal betting markets, such as France and Norway, had the highest levels of unlicensed gambling. This and the latest survey data should also serve as a warning to the UKGC.  If restrictions tightened further, the exodus of gamblers abroad could hasten further.




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