Why Are Casino Bonuses Lower in the UK Than Other Countries?

Dean McHugh
20 December 2023
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Everyone loves a freebie, which is why casino bonuses are so popular. A great way to increase the amount you can spend, casino bonuses can provide a whole range of free extras.

However, despite the availability of casino bonuses in the UK, they may often appear much lower than elsewhere. But is this really the case? And what factors influence the bonuses on offer? We take a closer look at casino bonuses available in the UK and how to get the very best deals.

Gambling Regulation in the UK

In the UK, gambling is a highly regulated industry monitored by an independent regulatory body, the UK Gambling Commission. First established after the introduction of the 2005 UK Gambling Act, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has a central role in protecting players and ensuring that all gambling is fair and transparent.

There are a number of regulators around the world, but the UKGC has a reputation for being one of the toughest. Any casino that plans to operate legally in the UK must meet the standards set out by the UKGC and be prepared to follow an agreed code of conduct.

The UKGC has overall control over the regulation of the gambling industry. This means providing a licence for casinos to operate and monitoring their general conduct. If any casino or gambling operator is deemed to have breached the terms of their licence, the UKGC will issue a penalty. In the most severe cases, this could include removing the licence to operate in the UK.

What Areas Does the UKGC Regulate?

Any company with a gambling licence in the UK must adhere to the guidelines set out by the UKGC. These guidelines are constantly evolving and are designed to cover a range of issues, including the prevention of money laundering and fraud and the protection of vulnerable players.

The guidelines cover a broad expanse of subjects relating to gambling but include a section on bonuses. While the UKGC doesn’t prevent casinos from offering bonuses, they have very strict criteria about how bonuses should be offered, administered, and paid.

Over the years since it was first formed, the UKGC has expanded and developed its role further. This has particularly been the case with the evolution of responsible gambling measures, including bonuses, which we’ll look at in more detail a bit further below.

The UKGC does not deal with specific complaints relating to gambling unless they could impact the terms of the licence, although it does collect statistics and data. If a player has a complaint against a gambling operator that isn’t related to the terms of the licence, it is dealt with by one of the UKGC-approved Alternative Dispute Resolution providers. For example, if the complaint relates to low bonuses being offered, the UKGC would not step in.

If a complaint relates to any advertisement or marketing, the Advertising Standards Agency will investigate the matter. We will look at the ASA’s role in more detail next and, more specifically, the impact on casino bonuses.

Tough Advertising Standards

Just like gambling regulation in general, there are extremely robust standards in place in the UK relating to advertising activity. This applies to every industry, but there are particularly strict rules relating to sensitive areas such as online gambling and casinos.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the regulator for advertising in the UK, and it is responsible for dealing with any complaints or breaches relating to marketing activity from gambling operators. This means that it has a code of conduct that every company must abide by, and it also monitors any advertising or marketing activity in the UK.

Although the ASA is the advertising regulator, the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) also plays a part. The CMA is responsible for monitoring markets and regulated industries and overseeing competition rules plus consumer law.

In other words, if gambling operators engage in any business practices that could harm consumers, the CMA could get involved.

A third agency is also included in the UK’s advertising regulation process: the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). This body is responsible for the creation of Ad Codes; these are the rules that every company must follow and what the ASA regulates.

The presence of three different organisations demonstrates the extent to which advertising and marketing activity is scrutinised in the UK. Every business in every industry is expected to abide by the rules, both in the letter of the law and in spirit, and there are hefty penalties for failing to do so.

Advertising in Gambling

The general advertising guidelines around transparent, honest and clear marketing apply to gambling, but there are also specific guidelines which are designed to provide direct guidance to casinos and other operators.

The CAP code states that gambling operators must not suggest that gambling can solve financial woes. This includes insinuating that a large bonus payout could be a life-changing experience. Casinos and gambling operators must be scrupulous about avoiding any link that suggests gambling, including the payment of bonuses, could ease financial pressure.

Free bets and promotions are an area that is specifically addressed under the CAP Code. It covers the offer, administration, and payment of casino bonuses.

There are a number of areas of concern within the Code:

  • The bonus, free bet, or promotion must not be misleading
  • Material information must not be left out
  • Relevant facts must not be unclear, and they must be presented in a “timely” manner
  • Restrictions and limitations must be specified
  • The phrase “free bets” should be used carefully and avoided if the player has to pay anything
  • If the player has to make any commitment in order to accept a free bonus, the advert must make the extent of this clear

The ASA has had a number of complaints related to casino bonuses, with many issues centring on unclear or unfair terms. As a result, casinos must make any relevant information prominent within their advertising, with full details available no more than one click away.

The extent of the advertising rules that apply to casino bonuses should not be underestimated. Casinos must be extremely careful in how they advertise and market bonuses to avoid falling foul of the rules.

Some consideration is given in the Code to the fact that there may not always be sufficient space to provide full details of the bonus or promotion, but this doesn’t mean that casinos can escape their obligations. Casinos are expected to make the information clear and accessible by other means so there can be no misunderstanding or failure to inform players of the terms.

The net effect of the very explicit regulation around casino bonus marketing and advertisements is that they may not always seem appealing or generous. The UK expects casinos to go to extensive measures to ensure that prospective players are not misled about how much they could win and what their commitments are.

Not every country has the same detailed regulation on casino bonuses, and this means there may appear to be more generous bonuses elsewhere. This is not necessarily the case; it may simply be that in the UK, the requirement to be transparent, unambiguous, and informative may make casino bonuses seem less lucrative.

While casino bonuses are a powerful marketing tool that can attract players, casinos in the UK may be more reticent about what they offer to avoid falling foul of the advertising code. The penalties for breaching the code can involve heavy fines, so taking a more cautious approach makes good business sense.

In addition to all of the above, a large chunk of the CAP guidelines relates to responsible gambling and ensuring that all marketing and advertising adhere to these standards. This is also very prominent within the UKGC guidelines. The next section below will examine responsible gambling measures and how they impact bonus offers.

The Impact of Responsible Gambling Measures

Responsible gambling is a huge subject and it warrants its own in-depth review. However, it also has direct relevance to casino bonuses, including what’s offered by casinos and the public’s perception of what’s on offer, and that’s what we’re going to look at here.

Responsible gambling refers to the measures a casino is expected to take to protect vulnerable players and prevent problem gambling. While no measures are completely foolproof, the UKGC has compiled guidelines on what casinos must attempt to identify and the steps they must take.

This includes identifying underage players and those with a history of gambling problems.

The role of the UKGC and the ASA theoretically merge at this point as the shared goals around casino bonuses aim to prevent players from being induced to play and to take a socially responsible approach.

There are many options available to casinos to encourage a healthy attitude to gambling and to prevent players from developing a problem. These include the following:

  • Self-exclusion
  • Reminders and reality checks
  • Limits on deposits
  • Promotion of support and self-help groups such as GAMSTOP
  • Tools such as spending caps and voluntary betting limits

Responsible Gambling Guidelines

The UKGC is constantly issuing and updating its responsible gambling guidelines, as this is a hot topic that’s rapidly evolving. These guidelines require casinos to identify any players who are exhibiting signs of harmful behaviour and to prevent any marketing on the subject of bonuses being sent to them. Casinos will also be expected to ensure that these vulnerable players cannot take up any bonus offers or promotions.

Even if the player is not considered vulnerable, the UKGC has strict rules around casino bonuses. This includes the requirement that players are not induced to spend more than they otherwise would. Casinos must not attempt to prevent players from withdrawing their funds, and they must not place onerous wagering requirements on the bonus terms.

The concern here is that the lure of a bonus could result in players overspending or being induced to abandon their usual casino habits in order to claim a lucrative promotion. Marketing and advertisement of bonuses must always be reasonable, proportionate, and must not make untrue suggestions that could alter a player’s behaviour.

There are many additional stipulations around responsible gambling, which could also impact what bonuses can be offered. These include things such as not making suggestions about a glamorous lifestyle or having a theme, such as cartoons, that could appeal to underage or vulnerable players.

The ultimate goal is to ensure that players are not tempted into playing or spending more than they should because of the suggestions or implications that a casino makes about either its prizes or its bonus offers.

The Impact of Responsible Gambling on Bonuses

Casinos take their obligations under socially responsible gambling very seriously, not least because they are required to do so by the regulator. A plethora of tools and automation is now in place to identify and prevent players who are at risk of developing unhealthy habits.

There is, as you would expect, a knock-on impact on casino bonuses, and not just for those players who have been identified as vulnerable.

Casinos must be careful not to offer huge sums that could persuade players to spend more than they can afford or to seemingly offer enormous bonus payouts without being clear about the player’s commitment.

Taking such a responsible approach means that the overall design of the bonuses has been affected, with casinos acutely aware of the need to tread a careful line. On the one hand, bonuses are a big pull for new and existing players, but by offering eye-watering bonuses – albeit with onerous wagering requirements or restrictions – casinos could be judged as breaching their responsibilities.

This means that, in many cases, there aren’t the large casino bonuses that you may have found available in the past. This doesn’t mean you can’t get some great winnings from a casino bonus, but you’re more likely to find a moderate approach than a payout approaching a lottery win!

UK Taxation on Gambling Profits

Bonuses are offered at virtually every casino because of their popularity with players. New players often compare the latest bonus offers, so promotions are a vital tool for casinos to get ahead of the competition.

Of course, the cost of paying for bonuses has to be carefully calculated and balanced with the general finances of the casino. This is why some bonuses that are particularly generous may be withdrawn when they have been claimed a certain number of times.

As part of the overall financial assessment, casinos must consider the impact of taxation. It is a subject that players are largely protected from because all casino winnings in the UK, including bonus payments, are paid out tax-free. No matter how much you win from a casino, you will never be obliged to report it to HMRC or pay tax. This is not the case in other countries where players may lose a large chunk of their winnings to tax. That is worth factoring in when comparing casino bonus offers from different countries around the world.

UK casino firms don’t enjoy the same tax-free treatment. Betting and gaming duty applies in the UK, and the amount payable depends on the level of profits and the type of gambling taking place.

Casinos in the UK must pay gaming duty of between 15-50%, depending on various factors. The more profit a casino generates, the higher the rate of duty that must be paid. It is a significant proportion and would clearly have an impact on the profitability of any gambling provider.

In addition to the compulsory taxes, casinos are also expected to contribute to initiatives to support responsible gambling.

All of this means that casinos can lose a large percentage of their profits, which, in turn, impacts the freebies they’re able to offer players. With such heavy taxes and other financial obligations, there is less spare cash available for casinos to offer bonus payments and promotions.

A Balanced Approach

As we said right at the start, everyone loves a freebie, and that means casino bonuses. However, as a tightly regulated market, the UK may often be viewed as not offering the largest promotions compared to other countries.

Some of this is simply due to perception because UK-licensed casinos must be explicitly clear about the terms of every promotion. This may make them seem less desirable than casino bonuses found elsewhere when, in reality, it’s just that they’re more transparent!

However, it’s also true that some casino bonuses may be more moderate because of the impact of the regulation and monitoring. It includes monitoring by the gambling regulator, the UKGC, and regulation by advertising bodies such as the ASA.

In the UK, all casinos must be regulated to offer legal gambling facilities, and this means complying with the very rigorous standards in place. The net effect of this may mean that the value of bonuses is reduced in order to stick to the rules around responsible gambling.

It may sound like a negative, but that’s not necessarily the case. It’s still possible to find fantastic casino bonuses in the UK, but there’s the added advantage of knowing that they are genuine and that you will get exactly what’s advertised. Bonuses elsewhere may appear to be more lucrative, but there may be hidden terms, or if the casino is unlicensed, you might not get any payout at all!

The casino bonuses in the UK offer a balance of good deals backed by watertight regulation, so you can be confident about playing and receiving whatever you win.

Author Dean McHugh

I am a full-time Sports Betting & Casino Content Writer based in the UK. I have years of knowledge, covering a broad range of different sports. If I don’t know about it, it's not worth knowing! My favourite sports are Football, Tennis, Golf, Snooker, Cricket, Boxing and MMA. As you can tell...I love sports! I have a passion for the Casino and iGaming industry, I have worked in and around it for the best part of 20 years.