The internet has made sports betting accessible to virtually anyone in the world who has an internet connection. This unprecedented access to sports betting markets has provided the sports betting industry with a major boost. At the same time, it has legal implications for both bookmakers and punters, especially in countries where sports betting is heavily regulated or banned.
It’s important to note that depending on where you live, using sports betting websites could land both you and the owners of the betting websites in hot water with authorities.
Is using an online bookmaker legal?
Some countries have placed outright bans on online betting or regulate it heavily, while others place few restrictions on online betting. To complicate matters, many countries are in the process of changing the laws that apply to online sports betting.
This means that the legal status of online betting in your country may change suddenly, depending on how your government responds to the activities of online bookmakers. Check our quick guide to the legality of online betting to determine the legal status of online betting in your country.
Legal challenges for sports betting
Countries may ban online sports betting due to moral or religious objections to gambling. In addition, governments may object to the potential tax loopholes, competition and money laundering opportunities created by online sports betting.
Nevertheless, certain forms of state-regulated and state-operated gambling are not only legal but encouraged in many countries. The most common example is state lotteries. In some countries, like Norway, the government maintains a monopoly over all forms of gambling.
Online sports betting can therefore be regarded as a potential competitor to state-run gambling, potentially threatening to reduce state revenue. Governments can’t tax the profits of bookmakers operating offshore, although those bookmakers may be operating in their jurisdictions via the Internet. They may also face legal problems in taxing profits made by punters.
Finally, online gambling creates the possibility for money laundering. Potentially, bookmakers may receive and process “black money” from foreign punters by taking large losing bets. Large-scale money laundering through online betting services requires collusion at the highest levels of a bookmaker’s organization, and isn’t a credible threat with the big betting brands. However, the emergence of hundreds of smaller betting sites, largely based in tax havens, presents opportunities for owners of these sites to process large sums of money obtained through criminal transactions.
What can happen if you gamble illegally?
Some bookmakers are aware of betting bans in certain countries and block access to IP addresses from those countries. The majority, however, are happy to accept bets from any user who registers an account. Some countries attempt to prevent this by blocking access to betting websites, but the reality is that anyone who knows how to set up a proxy IP and is determined enough is likely to succeed in accessing betting services.
For governments, the most effective way of tracking illegal betting activity is to trace financial transactions. Many financial institutions are required by law to report illegal transactions made with bookmakers. The paper trail left as a result of depositing and withdrawing funds from online betting providers may also be used as evidence in state cases against punters or betting providers.
Although there are exceptions, individual punters are rarely prosecuted for breaking local gambling laws. Instead countries that restrict online sports betting are more likely to prosecute online betting providers. However, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. The prosecution of companies can result in clients’ betting accounts being locked, as well as confiscation of all funds in these accounts.
If you’re in doubt about the status of sports betting in your country or about which sports betting sites are licensed, it’s best to contact a local gambling regulator for more information.
- Find out about the legality of sports betting in the UK.
- Find out about the legality of sports betting in Australia.
- Find out about the legality of sports betting in Canada.
- Find out about the legality of sports betting in New Zealand.
- Find out about the legality of sports betting in South Africa.