The United Kingdom (UK) consists of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Today gambling is a multi-billion dollar business there, and all major forms of gambling, online and offline, are both legal and extremely popular. The widespread appeal of gambling throughout the UK is no surprise, given the fact that in England, at least, gambling was openly practised for centuries. Crockfords, the exclusive gambling club which opened in London back in 1828, is still operating. Ladbrokes, another internationally known company in the gambling business, began operating as a British bookmaker in 1886.
Casinos did not become legal in England until the passage of the Betting and Gambling Act 1960. Initially, casinos were open only to paid members. The casinos and managers received a commission from the player’s membership fees. Casinos and pubs were both permitted to offer slot machines. Casinos were restricted to 10 machines only, but the rule became very difficult to enforce. Once casinos were legalised, they started appearing, one after another, all over the country. Within five years there were about 1,000 casinos. In addition, because betting shops, intended to replace the corner bookmaker, also became legal, hundreds of those appeared as well.
A major problem created by all of the new gambling businesses opening up was that loopholes in the law made it too easy for almost anyone to open a casino or betting shop. As a result, many of the businesses became a front for criminal activity. While the Betting, Gaming, and Lotteries Act 1962 and Gaming Act 1968 had little effect in correcting the problem, the 1970 Gaming Act introduced new restrictions and transferred control to the Gaming Board. The UK Gambling Act 2005 brought about additional changes, including the establishment of the Gambling Commission to take over for the Gaming Board and oversee all gambling in the country.
Slot machines are commonly called fruit machines in the UK, and while you sometimes hear the two terms used interchangeably, the so-called fruit machines that became such a huge hit with British gamblers have certain distinctive features all their own. The term “fruit machine” first came about because most of the symbols on the very early gambling machines at the beginning of the 20th century were indeed types of fruit, with a few bars and 7s added for variety. At first, even though the player put coins into the machines, the prize was not money, but rather drinks or cigarettes. Later, winners were paid in money, but when the machines were finally legalised, there was also a new stipulation that there had to be some element of skill to the game as well as luck.
Accordingly, beginning in the 1960s, fruit machines were designed with special features such as Hold, Nudge, Gamble, Cash Ladder, and Bonus Board. Some of the features are also offered on many slot games, while others are unique to fruit machines. For example, “Hold” allows players to hold one or more reels on the next spin while “Nudge” allows players to nudge one or more reels on the next spin. The Gamble Feature (also found in many online games) gives players the option to try to double or quadruple their win by making a lucky guess about the next playing card, but at the same time risk losing back their original winnings if they guess wrong. On most of the fruit machines, if you correctly guess whether the next card will be higher or lower (or red or black), you double your winnings. Or if you correctly guess the suit of the card, you quadruple your winnings. The Cash Ladder and Bonus Board also tempt players into trying to win extra money, but again, with the possibility of winning nothing by getting too greedy.
All of the fruit machines have three reels and just one payline. But the added features, which require a little strategy on the player’s part, make them fundamentally different from most slot machines. These features allow astute players to set up the reels to increase their chances for a better outcome. One of the most popular fruit machines of all time is Deal or No Deal, based on the TV game.
Land-Based Slots in the United Kingdom
The minimum legal age to gamble anywhere in the UK is 18. In the UK, like in Australia, licensed gambling operators are required to pay taxes to the government, but winning players are not taxed. The low legal gambling age, widespread availability of places to play, plus the fact that gamblers do not have to pay tax on their winnings all contribute to making land-based gambling the popular pastime that it is.
Gaming machines (both fruit machines and slots) continue to be extremely popular in the UK. However, out of some 248,000 gambling machines currently in existence there, only 1% are in casinos. All of the rest are fruit machines in places like pubs, arcades, and fish and chips stores.
According to the Gambling Act 2005, all fruit machine operators must be licensed. Fruit machines giving out cash prizes must have a maximum stake of 30p and a maximum prize of ₤25. However, the gaming venue owner can apply for a permit to increase the jackpots to ₤250. The minimum payout percentage on these machines must be 70%. The Gambling Act 2005 also restricts the number of gambling machines and permissible betting limits in casinos.
An interesting fact about the UK land-based casinos is that they have always been and still are basically just places to gamble, and other than the almost mandatory bars and restaurants, offer virtually nothing to do but gamble. There was a time when British casinos were reserved for members only, requiring both advance registration and a 24 hour waiting period for first time visitors. Most UK casinos have now dispensed with the waiting period requirement, but may still ask you to register. At a few very exclusive casinos, admission is by invitation only and a fee of $1,000 is assessed.
On the other hand, if you are visiting the UK from another country and looking for a majestic Las Vegas type casino entertainment complex or full scale resort, you might be surprised because you won’t find any. Unlike some countries which attract a lot of tourists with a few mega size casinos, the UK has many smaller casinos. Most land-based casinos in the UK are so small that they are not allowed to have more than 20 slot machines.
There are more than 140 casinos in the UK, but except for a handful in Scotland and Wales, they are all in England. There are no casinos in Northern Ireland. Three companies, Genting UK, the Rank Group, and Gala Coral Group, not only own the majority of the land-based casinos, but have online casinos that are also open to UK players. The following are some of the well-known brick and mortar casinos in the UK that are popular with slot players.
Casino at the Empire (London)
This 24/7 casino located in busy Leicester Square in London opened in 2008. It is not only the biggest casino in the UK, but owned and operated by Caesars, which owns casino properties all over the world. Slot players can choose from 40 slots with a betting range from 5p to ₤5. Many of the slots are from IGT, including IGT Multigame Machines with up to 26 games. There are also progressive jackpot slots with a maximum payout of ₤20,000. Casino at the Empire is one of the few casinos in the UK offering Las Vegas style slots, too.
Genting Club Star City Casino (Birmingham)
This casino has had several name changes over the years (including Star City Casino and Circus Casino). When it was built in 2004, it was the largest casino in the UK. It is now the second largest. The Genting Club Star City Casino is part of the Malaysian based casino conglomerate, the Genting Group, and one of 46 Genting Group owned casinos in the UK. All of the slots are powered by Novomatic, and all of the games can also be found online. The fixed odds betting terminals have betting limits from 25p to ₤2 while the Novomatic Super V+ Gaminator ₤20,000 jackpot slots accept bets from 40p to ₤5. The return to player (RTP) on all of the machines is 94%. The Genting Club Star City is open from 12 noon to 6 a.m. The player’s rewards card is the same as for all Genting Club casinos.
Grosvenor Victoria Casino (London)
This 24/7 casino, which is owned by the Rank group, the largest British owned casino chain the country, has been in existence since 1954. It is one of 30 Grosvenor casinos in the UK. Although not as busy as it was in its heyday in the 1960s, it still attracts many international visitors. The casino has 20 slots.
Les Croupiers Casino (Cardiff, Wales)
This casino is located in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Like many UK casinos, Les Croupiers is a stand-alone casino. It is more than 40 years old but still popular. Both IGT and Novomatic slots are offered with a minimum bet of 1p and a maximum bet of ₤5 and an opportunity to win a ₤10,000 jackpot. The casino is open from 2 p.m. to 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. The RTP on all of the slots is 94%.
Not only land-based gambling, but also online gambling, is a thriving business in the UK. With the passage of the Gaming Act 2005, the UK became the first major country in the world to legalise online gambling. The newly created Gambling Commission, which was given the task to regulate all land-based gambling in the UK was also entrusted with regulating online gambling. The minimum age to gamble online in the UK is 18, the same as for land-based gambling.
As of November, 2014, another law went into effect specifically relating to UK online gambling. This law requires all licensed gambling operators from other countries to have an additional licence from the UK Gambling Commission as a condition for offering online gambling to UK residents. In addition, these licensed operators must pay the UK Government a 15% tax on their profits from UK bettors.
Probably the red tape of having to apply for another licence plus pay the high taxes will lead some foreign operators to discontinue accepting play from UK bettors. That could open the doors to a lot of unlicensed sites popping up and trying to grab their slice of the lucrative UK online betting market.
Meanwhile, UK residents who wish to play online slots have a choice of hundreds of reputable online casinos, both UK based and foreign based. Both the betting limits and the payout rates are higher than in the land-based casinos and much to the delight of many players, their favourite fruit machines are readily available online, too. Mobile slot play has become an especially popular form of gambling. In 2014, 77% of the population owned a smartphone. According to the Gambling Commission, more than 40% of remote gambling in the UK is done with a smartphone.