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What is gambling?

In the Gambling Act 2005 gambling is defined as betting, gaming or participating in a lottery. That definition distinguishes between activities which need to be licensed and other activities which do not. 

We categorise different gambling activities into what we call sectors:

  • Arcades (those for adults and those for families)
  • Betting (online, at an event or in a high street bookmakers)
  • Bingo (online or in a bingo hall)
  • Casino (online or in a casino)
  • Lotteries (raffles, tombolas, sweepstakes etc)
  • Gaming machines (fruit machines, fixed odds betting terminals etc) 


There are three types of amusement arcade:

  • adult gaming centres (AGCs)
  • licensed family entertainment centres (FECs)
  • unlicensed family entertainment centres (UFECs). 

AGCs and FECs require a licence from the Gambling Commission. UFECs require a permit from the local licensing authority. 

Gaming machines (fruit machines, slot machines) on arcade premises fall into different gaming machine categories depending on the levels of stake and prize offered. 

Age restrictions for arcades

No one under the age of 18 is allowed to enter an AGC or the adults only area of a licensed FEC. 


There are several different ways in which betting can be offered:

You need a licence from the Gambling Commission to offer betting services. 

Fixed odds betting

The most common form of betting is fixed odds betting where you bet a stake to win a fixed amount calculated by the odds available. For example, a £10 bet at odds of 2/1 would return £30 (£20 of winnings + £10 stake) if successful. If unsuccessful you lose your £10 stake. 

Fixed odds betting can be offered:

  • in betting shops (off-course)
  • on tracks (on-course)
  • by remote means (including online gambling). 

Pool betting

Pool betting differs from fixed odds betting as winnings are determined by the sum of stakes paid into the pool. The amount you win is calculated by dividing the total pool (minus a commission fee for the organiser) by the number of winning tickets. Pool betting includes:

  • racecourse pool betting
  • football and other sports pool betting
  • fantasy football type competitions. 

The Tote (Successor Company) Limited holds the exclusive licence (until mid-2018) to offer pool betting in respect of GB horse racing. Tote can, however, give permission for a company to offer pool betting in respect of GB horse racing. 

Betting intermediaries

A betting intermediary facilitates betting between two or more parties. They do not have liability for the bets but often take a commission fee from the winner. Betting intermediaries can be remote or non-remote. 

Spread betting

We don’t regulate spread betting. It is the responsibility of the Financial Conduct Authority 

Age restrictions for betting

No one under the age of 18 is allowed to bet with a licensed gambling business. 


What is bingo? 

Although there is no legal definition of the game of bingo we have worked with the bingo industry to create an advice note: What constitutes bingo.  

You need a licence from the Gambling Commission to offer bingo. 

You can run bingo as a prize game without the need for a bingo operating licence in adult gaming centres, family entertainment centres, unlicensed family entertainment centres and travelling fairs. 


Casino games are available online or in casino premises. 

Most casinos offer a variety of games, such as American roulette, punto banco (or baccarat) and blackjack. You can also play games of equal chance (such as poker) and gaming machines. A small number of casinos only offer electronic games and/or games of equal chance.

Find out about where casinos are permitted in Great Britain. 

Find out what games you can play in casinos


Raffles, tombolas and sweepstakes are all types of lottery.

Lotteries can only be run for good causes and cannot be run for commercial or private gain.

Large society lotteries and lotteries promoted by local authorities require a licence from the Gambling Commission.

Small society lotteries can operate under a registration with their local authority.

Other types of lottery do not require specific permission but there are rules that you must follow, see fundraising and promotions.

Find out about the National Lottery.

Age restrictions for lotteries

Lotteries differ from other types of gambling activity in that the minimum participation age is 16 for the National Lottery, society lotteries, customer lotteries and local authority lotteries, as opposed to 18 for other types of gambling. There is no minimum age requirement for other types of lotteries. 

Gaming machines

What is a gaming machine (fruit machine, slot machine)? 

A gaming machine is defined by the Gambling Act 2005 as a machine that is designed or adapted for use by individuals to gamble (whether or not it can also be used for other purposes). Most gaming machines are of the reel-based type, also known as fruit, slot or jackpot machines. 

Several devices or systems are excluded from being defined as gaming machines including:

  • domestic or dual use computers
  • telephones or other machines for facilitating communication
  • machines designed or adapted to bet on future real events
  • lottery terminals
  • on a bingo premises, machines designed or adapted for the playing of bingo (including by way of prize gaming)
  • machines designed or adapted for the playing of bingo, by way of prize gaming, where a family entertainment centre gaming machine permit or a prize gaming permit is held
  • semi-automated casino games
  • fully-automated casino games. 

What are gaming machine categories? 

Gaming machines fall into categories depending on the maximum stake and prize available. 

There is no statutory minimum percentage payout for gaming machines but all machines are required to clearly display the amounts paid to use the machine that is returned by way of prizes (described as the return to player (RTP) on the machine), or the odds of winning prizes from use of the machine.