The United Kingdom is the world’s largest licensing jurisdiction and home to some of the most successful poker sites on the planet. A combination of low taxes and sensible regulations strike the right balance between keeping the industry safe and giving the free market room to breathe. If other countries follow the UK’s lead, online poker will be with us for a long time.
Legislation passed in 2005 formally legalized online poker and set the stage for gambling moving forward. All the best UK poker sites are licensed by the Gambling Commission and are subject to stringent requirements regarding player safety, finances and advertising. Any site licensed by the Commission can be considered a safe place to play by default.
Although you won’t go wrong with any site licensed in the UK, some sites definitely stand out from the pack in terms of traffic, promotions, currency options and ease of depositing. In my experience, these are the best poker sites in the UK by a wide margin. You can play in pounds sterling, compete in large prize pool tournaments and find cash games at all levels.
One thing to keep in mind is the fact that there are no laws against playing at sites not licensed in the UK. It’s nice to have that freedom, but it’s really not worth your while. If something goes wrong with a foreign operator, the Gambling Commission can’t help you. Plus, the biggest sites in the UK offer the best quality anyways. They are staffed by professionals and are very well financed. There’s simply nothing offshore sites can offer to make it worth the risk.
Gambling Act 2005
Big changes came to the United Kingdom with the passage of the Gambling Act 2005. The act set the stage for online poker and gambling in the UK by establishing the Gambling Commission. All internet wagering activities are now monitored and regulated by the Commission, whose stated goals are to maintain the integrity of the industry and ensure the safety of players.
Other nations have enacted licenses schemes that look similar on paper, but the UK’s is by far the most effective. Operators must undergo a thorough vetting process and prove they have the resources to provide customers with a safe, high quality experience. This stands in stark contrast to some other licensing regimes that give a stamp of approval to anyone willing to pay a fee.
In addition to taking fees from poker sites seeking licenses, the Gambling Commission also inspects the software to be used, people to be employed and the business model. Getting licensed is an accomplishment in its own right. You can take some comfort knowing that if a site is approved to operate in the UK, it didn’t get to that point by filling out a few forms and paying a quick fee.
Depositing and Playing in GBP
The GBP is one of the three primary currencies used by poker sites around the world (the other two are the USD and EUR). If you decide to sign up at a UK-based site, you won’t have much trouble depositing and playing for real money.
The easiest way to fund your account is through various electronic transfers. Credit and debit cards, Neteller, Skrill, PayPal and iDebit can all be used to move money from your bank account to your poker account without you having to leave the house.
Most UK poker sites also accept cash deposits in the form of prepaid vouchers. Both Paysafecard and Ukash can be purchased in person with cash and then redeemed online. If you don’t mind having to get up and drive to the nearest location where vouchers are sold, you can use these methods to deposit without revealing your credit card number or banking information.
There will probably come a time when you decide to try your hand at a EUR or USD table. The biggest sites tend to favor euros due to the widespread nature of the tendency. That won’t be a problem even if all you have are pounds. All you have to do select the table you want to join and your site will perform the exchange at current rates.
Whatever your political views, it was good news for Scottish poker players when the latest referendum resulted in Scotland remaining a part of the UK. All the same poker laws that apply to the rest of the UK also apply to Scotland.
What this means for you is that you’re free to play at any poker site you wish. You can deposit using the same banking methods and cash out your winnings straight to your bank account. Any site licensed by the UK’s Gambling Commission is also available in Scotland. All you have to do is choose a site and sign up for an account.
As is the case in the UK, taxes are exempt for all players as long as they qualify as “recreational.” If you play for a living or earn a significant income, you may want to speak with a tax professional to see if this has an effect on your taxation status.
Northern Ireland operates under its own set of gaming laws. Live poker is clearly outlawed across the nation, but online poker remains relatively untouched. Players from Northern Ireland can visit any UK-based poker site, play in GBP and receive cashouts as normal.
The country has sought to strengthen anti-gambling laws in recent times, but players will be glad to know that the law clearly differentiates between gambling and poker (unlike most countries). To date, it remains legal to play online poker in Northern Ireland.