Publish Date: 30/05/2021
Fact checked by: Josh Schwartz
Since the US lifted the federal ban on gambling back in 2018, a little over two dozen states have gone on to legalize sports wagering in some shape or form. However, few of those have done so online, and the overall number of states with legal gambling still equates to less than half of the total number of US states in 2022.
Across the pond, our cousins in the United Kingdom legalized gambling throughout the country back in 1961, and its since gone on to be more popular than the church. Betting on sports has become as a much a regular part of British life as going to the pub, drinking cups of tea and avoiding good quality dentistry. Although gambling remains functional and popular, it hasn’t been a smooth road, with the industry and its main regulator, the UKGC, facing constant backlashes all the time.
We’ve taken a look at the successes and mistakes that the Brits have made, to see how the legal gambling industry here in the US can learn from them. We’ve also thrown in a few things that some of our legal gambling states could teach them at the end as well.
Due to the fact that sports betting it still illegal in the majority of states, and that many of those with legal betting have not included online or mobile wagers, the black market and overseas betting operators still have the majority of the market share here in the US. The UK legalized sports and casino gambling across the whole country, which resulted in the black market reducing in size rapidly. Today it’s so underground your average Brit probably doesn’t even know it exists. Prior to legalization in 1961, match fixing had plagued English soccer in the 1950s due to the involvement of powerful illegal gangs (imagine Peaky Blinders 30 years on), but legalization stamped it out almost instantly.
For all the flaws of the UK gambling industry, it’s undeniable that they nationwide legalization has made it far easier to control and regulate. However, due to the complexities of the state and federal legal systems here in the US, a US-wide gambling legalization would be a near impossible goal to achieve and implement.
The UK doesn’t have any form of federalized system to deal with, and therefore just needed the approval of the four member nations - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Back in 1961, the devolved parliaments of the three smaller nations (those other than England) didn’t have us much power and control as they do now. If a UK gambling bill were getting put through their parliament today, you can bet your ass the increasingly distant Scottish government would have a thing or two to say about it, as would likely the Welsh, and the divided Northern Irish parliament.
Lifting the federal ban on gambling some 57 years after the UK legalized it, has better placed the US to prevent mistakes in advance, rather than having to learn from them. The initial lack of control of legalized gambling has caused, and is still causing problems, in the UK to this day. This is especially true when it comes to problem gambling and mental health. The UKGC is still facing huge pressure from their National Health Service with regards to gambling-related mental health admissions, and rules of online sports betting and casinos are having to be constantly changed as the UKGC struggles to keep up with the rapid changes that the online shift has brought.
States that have a legalized online wagering in the US seem to have noticed this problem across the pond and have taken it on board, with many states giving a portion of total gambling revenue to gambling help charities.
The relationship between gambling companies and major sports teams in the UK is a tight one, with two being hugely intersected. As well as gambling companies accounting for a large portion if the shirt sponsors of soccer and rugby teams, pretty much every single professional sports team in the UK has their own official gambling partner. Switch on the TV on game day in the UK, and you’ll see almost nothing but gambling adverts adorned with the faces of some of the biggest names in sport, including management titans like Jose Mourinho.
The US seems to be going down this path, however many deem it to be unhealthy in the UK. Their in too deep across the pond, and change looks unlikely, as there’s too much money following from either side. Here in the US we have the opportunity to put a lid on it before it gets out of control.
If you’ve ever been to the UK, you might have noticed that streets everywhere from city down towns to small town centers and suburban shopping areas are littered with sports betting shops. They’re literally more common than 7-Eleven shops here. Go inside one, and you’ll most likely be offered as much free tea and coffee as you can physically guzzle down - but no beer or liquor. A great many of the two dozen US states have legalized in-person sports wagering, with the retailer outlets being inside casinos that ply potential bettors with booze as standard, which naturally paves the way for more unhealthy betting habits.
Walk up to your average Joe on the streets of London, Glasgow or Manchester, and ask him to name five betting companies. Chances are he’ll be able to rhyme off the names at the drop of a hat, he’ll probably have a couple of their betting apps on his phone, and a local retailer branch within 5 minutes of his apartment block. Ask him, how much those companies get taxed and where the money goes, and he’ll likely have no clue.
Since legal state lotteries started to pop up all across the US in the 1970s and 1980s, the trend has been to state how much of the revenue goes back into the community and exactly where it goes. This has been continuing with legalized gambling - with total tax revenue in most states being split between state services and charities that help problem gamblers. The websites of lotteries and regulators all state exactly where the money goes, with some even providing records of where the cash has been spent in the past.
A great many of the states to pass legal sports wagering bills have put the bill on the ballot for the public vote. The UK did no such thing back in 1961, and in fact never tends to do so with such issues. In most of these sates, the voters knew they were voting for legalized betting that would take away black market revenue and bring it back into the community. It obviously some 60 years too late for the UK, but perhaps they could put some major reforms to the public vote, should the ever happen.