Comparing the US and UK Gambling Industries

Worldwide, the gambling industry is thought to be worth US$231 billion, with almost half of that coming from online activity. Each country has its own gambling legislation, rooted in tradition, religion, and willingness to generate tax revenue from the sector.

With some exceptions, the last decade has seen an overall international trend towards a more relaxed approach by lawmakers concerning gambling. While the UK and the USA have intertwined histories, dating back some 300 years, the way those nations have developed gambling activity since then has seen them arrive at quite distinct betting laws and landscapes today.

Comparing the US and UK Gambling Industries
Comparing the US and UK Gambling Industries


In the world of brick-and-mortar casinos, the US is king. More specifically Las Vegas, Nevada, the city with the most casinos in the world, has 30 on its esteemed Strip alone. With gambling laws not being dictated at a federal level, there is significant variability across the country. 

Nevada boasts 334 casinos while 5 states – Virginia, Vermont, Utah, Tennessee and Alaska – have none at all. The UK has more predictability in the number of casinos across the country. Unsurprisingly, London has the most at 29, and most other cities have a number proportional to their population and size.


Online Casinos  

Online casinos are not legal in every state. In those where it isn’t legal, gamers are forced to take their custom to out of state or foreign providers. Legislators have begun to concede this represents foregone tax revenue that could be put towards public services and have recently moved towards a more liberal approach.

Much of this change of attitude has been given the legal room to develop as a result of the reinterpretation of the Federal Wire Act of 1961. The act prohibited certain types of betting and was until recently understood to mean online gambling of all kinds – casinos included. 

That was until 2011, when the Department of Justice declared the Federal Wire Act concerned only sports betting. This gave individual states the right to legislate online casinos as they see fit. Since then, New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Michigan have all legalized online casino games within their state borders.

The United Kingdom is a country with only around 20% of the population of the United States so, at a bureaucratic level, is a lot more straightforward to regulate. All forms of gambling in the UK are overseen by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) and online gambling is legal for residents and visitors alike. 

The country’s approach towards gambling is, instead of criminalizing it, to try and closely monitor it and create a safe space for gamers rather than driving it underground, which results in its laws being more progressive even than a lot of the rest of Europe. Any online casino UK must first obtain a license from the UKGC.

Britain has a bit of an obsession with online gambling – the industry yields in excess of £8 billion annually and represents almost half of all gambling activity. Conversely, the USA has a heavier reliance on brick-and-mortar institutions which is contributed to by the high levels of international tourism in the sector to resorts like Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Reno.

Online Casinos  
Online Casinos  

Sports Betting

Both the UK and the US have thriving sports betting industries but the games that Britons and Americans like to wager on are quite different. American Football at the Major League and NCAA level is the most popular sport to bet on in the states – and it is so prevalent that it ranks second most betted on worldwide, despite its popularity existing mainly within one country.

Unsurprisingly, the UK is soccer (or simply football to the rest of the world) infatuated and they like nothing more than to bet on the outcome of their favorite team. Soccer is also the most bet on sport worldwide because of its international appeal. Horse racing used to top the list but with the modernization of football betting with accumulators and in-play bets, it has become a force to be reckoned with. 

Sports betting in many parts of the USA is still in its infancy. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was passed in 1992 and outlawed all sports betting in most states. It was overturned only in 2018 by the Supreme Court, which deemed it in contravention of the tenth amendment that prohibits states from being forced to implement federal laws.

The last four years have seen every state reconsider its stance on sports betting. As it stands, 25 states now have some form of legalized sports betting but for most of them, that must be done in person at registered betting shops and not online. 

Other differences and similarities between the two nations include:

  • Bingo

A global pastime but still largely a British phenomenon, Bingo, both online and in Bingo halls is big business in the UK.

  • American Roulette

American roulette, distinct for its additional double zero bed, was developed to improve the house edge. The French variant is still more common in European casinos, including British ones.

  • Lotteries

Both nations have sizable lotteries. Powerball is a lottery game that is currently offered by 45 of the 50 states and The National Lottery runs the United Kingdom’s lottery. 

The UK has a longstanding gambling tradition and recent changes to the law have been made only to refine what was previously in place. The US, on the contrary, is presently going through a period of unprecedented change and we’re likely to see an explosion in this gambling market over the coming years.


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