Although it is seen as a harmless pastime to many, gambling has been viewed by governments across the world as something that involves enough potential harm that it needs to be restricted. As with alcohol consumption, tobacco and, in most countries, other drugs, most governments apply an age restriction to gambling. In the UK, for instance, there is a minimum legal age of 18 that applies to most types of gambling. This is not the same in all countries, however, with some simply outlawing gambling completely, others having minimum age rules and others not restricting it at all.
In this article, we’ll go into a little more detail about how the gambling age restrictions work in the United Kingdom and we’ll outline how the minimum age differs in some circumstances. We’ll also take a look at what gambling age restrictions (or restrictions in general) apply in some other countries around the globe. First, though, let’s briefly delve into the legal framework of the gambling age restrictions in the UK.
Is It Illegal for Children to Gamble in the United Kingdom?
Gambling in England, Wales and Scotland falls under the Gambling Act 2005 which aims to stop gambling – whether online or offline – from being used for purposes of crime or disorder, to ensure it is conducted fairly, and to protect children and other vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling. Note that the Act does not cover gambling in Northern Ireland; because it is classed as a devolved issue, gambling in Northern Ireland falls under the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985.
Note also that there has been a long consultation on gambling legislation that has attempted to review the Gambling Act 2005 with a view to modernising it. At the time of writing, the legislation has not been replaced or significantly amended in light of the consultation and review, though this could well happen in the coming months or years.
2005 Gambling Act
It is Part 4 of The Gambling Act 2005 that deals with the “Protection of Children and Young Persons” in relation to gambling. The Act defines children as those “less than 16 years old” and young people as those “not a child but less than 18 years old” (so 16 and 17 year olds).
There are many sections to this part of the Act and we won’t go into a lot of detail here. But essentially it is an offence to invite a child or young person to gamble or to enter gambling premises (such as a casino), or to employ a child or young person in gambling-related activities. Moreover, a young person commits an offence if he/she gambles (online or offline), enters gambling premises, provides facilities for gambling or in one or two other gambling-related instances. It does not specify that a child commits an offence for any of these instances as they would presumably be deemed not legally responsible enough and hence would perhaps be deemed to have been invited or permitted to gamble (et cetera) by their parent or carer.
Having said that, there are some things that could be viewed as gambling but to which the age restrictions do not apply. For instance, it is not an offence for a child or young person to take part in “private or non-commercial” gaming or betting, so this could be playing poker for matches or similar, or even betting for real money as long as it is with friends and not facilitated by a third party. It also does not cover lotteries or football pools (see below for details) and certain gaming machines (category D, again see below) and equal chance prize games.
The National Lottery
The National Lottery, whilst covered in part by the Gambling Act 2005, also falls under its own legislation, the National Lottery Act 2006. Although initially people only had to be aged 16 to take part in the National Lottery, the age limit was increased to 18 years old in 2021 to bring it in line with casinos and betting shops.
Turning to the football pools, and though these were massively popular in their day (specifically, before the launch of the National Lottery!), they have dwindled markedly in recent times. Irrespective, the age limit for football pools implied by section 48(2)(d) of the Gambling Act 2005 would be 16 years of age. But, in reality, with football pools almost exclusively offered online these days, the sites that offer them tend to enforce a minimum age of 18 years of age to ensure they adhere to the minimum legal age of 18 for online gambling.
Category D Gaming Machines
Category D gaming machines, meanwhile, are described by the UK Gambling Commission as (generally) “low-stake fruit machine style machines, coin pushers … or crane grabs”, so the kind of things you would find at a seafront amusement arcade or at a fairground. These contrast to some of the other categories that are covered by the Act, such as the oft-criticised fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), which are illegal for under 18s. But there is no age restriction in relation to the Category D gaming machines.
UK Gambling Age Limits
Based on the current legislation in the UK, people have to be 18 years of age (or older) to gamble in (or even enter) casinos or licensed gambling premises (i.e. betting shops) or indeed to gamble online (whether in online casinos, betting sites, or any other online gaming site). The same age restriction applies to the National Lottery after having increased from 16, a rise that occurred for online lottery tickets/games in April 2021 and in October 2021 for lottery tickets/related games (like scratch cards) purchased in shops. Other lotteries (such as the Health Lottery) also require players to be aged 18 or over.
There appears to be some ambiguity as things stand in relation to football pools with the Gambling Act 2005 implying that people aged 16 and over would be able to play the pools (though not other pools betting, such as Tote horse racing betting, which is restricted to those age 18 and over). The contradiction with this implication, however, is that the UK Gambling Commission, which regulates (most types of) gambling in the UK, states that “the minimum legal age for gambling in Great Britain is 18” for online gambling. Given that football pools are generally offered online these days, operators will only make them available to those aged 18 or over.
The other main area of gambling in the UK for which the minimum age is 18 relates to most types of gaming machines (other than the aforementioned Category D machines). Specifically, the machines in question are as follows:
- Category A – Machines with unlimited stakes and prizes, but which are currently not permitted in the UK.
- Category B1 – Machines with a maximum stake of £5 and a maximum prize of £10,000 (rising to £20,000 for a linked jackpot based on the premises). These machines are only permitted in licensed casinos within certain machine to table ratios.
- Category B2 – Fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) with a maximum stake of £2 and a maximum prize of £500. These are permitted in casinos, betting shops or at racetracks that have pool betting facilities.
- Category B3 – Similar to FOBTs, with the same maximum stakes and prizes, but these can be located in bingo halls and adult gaming centres too.
- Category B3A – These are “lottery style games” offered through gaming machines with the same maximum stakes and prizes as category B3 and B2. These can, rather specifically, be offered in members’ clubs or miners’ welfare institutes only and are not permitted in commercial clubs.
- Category B4 – Available in casinos, betting shops, tracks with pool betting, bingo halls, adult gaming centres, members’ clubs, miners’ welfare clubs or commercial clubs. These machines have a max stake of £2 but a maximum prize of £400.
- Category C – These machines have a maximum stake of £1 and a maximum prize of £100 and, in addition to the venues mentioned for category B4, these can be located in pubs and other alcohol licensed premises.
Category D gaming machines, as mentioned above, do not have age restrictions, so little kids can waste as many 2p coins as they like in “penny falls” at the amusements in Whitby, safe in the knowledge that the police won’t be coming for them!
Aside from the category D machines, there are also no specific age restrictions in the UK for things that fall under the “prize gaming” category. That is to say, if the size or type of prize being played for is not determined by the number of people playing, the amount paid to play or indeed the amount raised by the gaming in question. So this could be something like a school tombola or raffle.
Private & Non-Commercial Gaming
Private and non-commercial gaming is also not subject to age restrictions in the UK. This is where the organisers of the games do not privately gain from the proceeds. The same is true of games offered at a travelling fair (even if they could be viewed by some as gambling as long as they could “amount together to no more than an ancillary amusement at the fair”. There are various other conditions that must be met, but – to cut through the details – kids can also waste their cash at the coconut shy without fear of getting nicked.
Gambling Age Restrictions Around the World
Now we’ve explained the main age restrictions relating to gambling in the UK, let’s turn our attention to other countries. Note that the information is correct at the time of writing but countries change their laws when they see fit and there is a lot of movement at the moment in relation to gambling laws (as countries attempt to keep on top of online gambling and its implications). As such, always check with the government in question if you need to know the specifics of that country’s gambling laws.
We won’t go through every country in the world, but we’ll give a brief snapshot of the countries who – at the time of writing – fall into one of these four categories:
- Gambling Is Illegal – In these countries, gambling is either completely or partially outlawed.
- More Restrictive Than the UK – Countries that have a higher minimum age than the UK.
- Roughly the Same as the UK – That is to say, countries that have a minimum age of 18 that applies to most or all gambling activities
- No Age Restrictions – In these countries/regions, there are no specific age restrictions in place in relation to gambling.
|Gambling Is Illegal||Cuba, Brazil (except Government Lottery), Libya, Algeria, Thailand (except Government Lottery), Qatar, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, China (except lottery), UAE|
|More Restrictive Than the UK||Bahamas (21), St Kitts and Nevis (21), Egypt (21), Nigeria (20), India (21), South Korea (19), Japan (20), Vietnam (21), United States (varies by state, 18-21)|
|Same as the UK||Russia, Hong Kong, Israel, South Africa, Senegal, Morocco, Ghana, Jamaica, Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay,|
|No Age Restrictions||Mongolia, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Gabon, Antarctica|
Note that some countries have different age restrictions for different types of gambling.
Gambling Age Restrictions in the UK Conclusions
As we have seen, for most types of gambling – including online gambling – in the UK, the minimum age is 18. There is some variation and indeed clarification about some types of “gambling” that are popular with children and young people, such as games found at amusement arcades. But there is little information about the many types of games found online and in apps that blur the lines between “games” and “gambling” and this could be something that will be addressed when the current legislation is updated.