UK bookmakers aren't just popular in the United Kingdom and Ireland. While these bookies do have a bigger footprint in the region due to the presence of brick and mortar high street betting shops, their betting websites are recognized as some of the best and most reputable in the world.
Critically, the top UK bookmakers are licensed by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission, which establishes conduct rules and laws that these bookmakers are required to follow to maintain their licenses.
These rules and laws are designed to protect consumers, which means these bookies are not only held on a tight leash but are also liable to government action in the event it is found that they have violated the rights of their customers or involved themselves in illegal activities.
Top 5 UK licensed bookmakers
While numerous UK licensed bookmakers are active online, the industry is dominated by a handful of major betting brands that have been in operation for decades.
Picking the best UK betting sites can be done by looking at the following factors:
- years in operation
- number of employees
- variety of sports and betting markets covered
- availability of special offers and bonuses.
Here is our pick of the top 5 UK licensed bookmakers.
bet365 is the leader in international sport betting. Since founding bet365 in 2000, the Coates family has focused on digital innovation, growing the company into the dominant player in online sports betting both in the United Kingdom and internationally. bet365 currently employs over 4000 people and generates annual revenue of almost £3 billion.
As a bookmaker that focuses exclusively on online betting, bet365 is constantly striving to outperform other betting companies in this area. This can be seen in their efforts to offer competitive odds to their customers, as well as a selection of ongoing special offers that give punters the opportunity to gain an edge on the house in some of the world's most popular sports.
Benefits of betting at bet365 include:
- one of the most event-packed betting websites in the business, which makes it easy to find and bet on virtually any sport or event you can think of
- the bet365 Price Promise, which guarantees that you will get the best odds available at any major bookie for any race that is broadcast on ITV racing
- top notch customer service
- unparalleled stability thanks to the way bet365 is structured at senior management level
- licensed by the Gambling Commission and regulated by the Gibraltar Gambling Commissioner.
You can read our full bet365 review here.
William Hill is one of the best known betting companies on the planet. Founded in 1934, the company was one of the biggest high street betting operators in the UK before aggressively expanding its Internet betting presence in the first decade of the new millennium. Today William Hill employs over 20,000 people around the world.
While there has been a fair amount of chopping and changing at management and ownership level, William Hill offers a consistently premium online betting service. It's selection of sports and betting markets is matched only by other bookies in this top five.
Benefits that William Hill offers its customers include:
- daily betting specials covering the most popular events in football and racing
- excellent customer service
- live streaming of a large variety of sports events via William Hill TV
- a variety of betting channels, including betting shops, telephone betting, the William Hill website and the William Hill app
- regulated by both the UK Gambling Commission and the Gibraltar Gaming Commission.
You can read our full review of William Hill's betting services here.
Paddy Power is renowned for its innovative marketing that blends humour, distinctive branding, sometimes controversial novelty bets, and a focus on betting specials. Established in Ireland in 1988, this UK bookmaker operates hundreds of betting shops as well as one of the world's most popular betting websites.
Something else that sets Paddy Power apart is the company's attitude towards fair play, which has included early payouts on sports events and some high profile refunds on selections that would otherwise have won in sports events that were settled under controversial circumstances.
At the same time Paddy Power's tendency to push the boundaries of good taste in advertising and novelty betting has landed them in hot water on several occasions, with incidents including offering odds on Barak Obama not completing his first term (i.e., being assassinated) and an ad which featured sight-impaired footballers playing the game with a cat.
If you look past Paddy Power's offside approach to marketing, they offer great value to their customers, including:
- daily betting specials, which often significantly increase your odds of winning your bet or getting a refund if your selection loses in a high-profile event
- one of the best UK betting sites in the business, featuring one of the industry's largest selections of sports and betting markets
- some of the most innovative novelty betting markets out there, allowing you to expand your betting beyond sports and into current affairs
- stability and powerful financial backing, thanks to the bookie's merger with exchange powerhouse, Betfair, in 2015
- regulation by both the Gambling Commission and the Malta Gaming Authority.
You can read our full Paddy Power review here.
Boylesports is the largest independent bookmaker in Ireland. While this bookie has a lower profile than rival Irish bookie Paddy Power, it offers many of the same value propositions.
Headquartered in Dundalk, Boylesports has been in operation since 1982. The company operates both an online sports betting service and a network of over 300 betting shops in the UK and Ireland. Over the decades Boylesports has cultivated less controversy than its rivals amongst the top UK licensed bookmakers, offering a solid, dependable service packed with value.
Boylesports customers enjoy:
- a selection of sports and betting markets to rival any major betting brand in the United Kingdom
- daily betting specials on a wide variety of sports, including daily racing place specials, money back offers and football specials
- one of the best designed websites in the business, with loads of extras like live commentary and streaming of UK and Irish racing
- regulated by both the UK Gambling Commission and the Gibraltar Gambling Commissioner.
You can read our full Boylesports review here.
Ladbrokes is the oldest betting brand in the United Kingdom, founded in 1886. While ownership of the company has changed hands several times since then, Ladbrokes remains one of the biggest names in UK betting. Ladbrokes operates one of the industry's best betting sites as well as thousands of betting shops in the UK and Ireland, making it the biggest high-street bookmaker in the region.
In 2016 Ladbrokes bought out rival bookmaker Coral, creating the Ladbrokes Coral Group. The company generates over a billion pounds in revenue every year and is major employer in the UK, with over 16,000 staff working in its betting shops and on the Ladbrokes website.
Besides benefitting from one of the most recognizable brands in sports betting, Ladbrokes has maintained its position as one of the best UK licensed bookmakers by offering its clients:
- a dynamic, easy to use website packed with special features including live streaming of selected events and super in-depth racecards for horseracing
- a solid selection of long running specials, free bets, including daily extra place specials for racing, accumulator boosts and odds boost offers
- the security of betting at a UK regulated bookmaker.
Other UK licensed betting sites
While the big five betting sites run by the UK's top bookmakers have a huge share of the market in the UK, there are countless other licensed UK betting sites operating in the UK and Ireland.
In no particular order, a list of the top 65 UK licensed bookmakers includes:
- 32 Red
- Bet 21
- Genting Bet
- Grosvenor Sport
- Mr Green
- Mr Play Sport
- Paddy Power
- PokerStars Sports
- Space Sports
- Sporting Bet
- Sporting Index
- Virgin Bet
- William Hill
You can find a full list of UK regulated bookmakers here.
About the UK Gambling Commission
The Gambling Commission is an independent betting adjudication service and arm of the government of the United Kingdom that regulates gambling activities and supervises gambling law in Great Britain according to the Gambling Act of 2005.
The organization regulars all gambling-related activities, including:
- sports betting and online bookies
- slot machines
The primary brief of the commission is to enforce the Gambling Act of 2005 and protect the rights of people using gambling services, regulate online betting, protect individuals susceptible to problem gambling and prevent money laundering, match fixing, and other crimes associated with the gambling industry.
Finally, the gambling commission is responsible for licensing gambling operators in the UK and has the power to fine gambling providers and revoke gambling licenses. This objective includes investigating and prosecuting illegal gambling operators that have not been licensed by the commission but operate gambling services within the United Kingdom.
What don't the Gambling Commission do?
The Gambling Commission does not directly handle or resolve customer complaints. In other words it is not an ombudsman for the industry. Instead it takes direct action against gambling companies once notified that they have violated relevant regulations.
In addition the Gambling Commission does not give legal advice and does not license betting shops or low stakes gambling in pubs and other venues. The Gambling Commission also does not regulate small society lotteries, spread betting operations or gambling websites that are not active in the United Kingdom.
Does the Gambling Commission have a good track record of protecting gamblers?
The Gambling Commission does take concrete action against gambling operators that flout regulations. This includes reviewing licenses of operators that do not identify and restrict the activities of problem gamblers.
The Gambling Commission also actively enforces laws against money laundering, including identifying large deposits made at bookies by customers who have been reviewed by risk and fraud teams, as well as identifying operators failing to verify source of funds for accounts with large turnovers.
Unlicensed websites actively targeting individuals who have chosen to self-exclude from licensed gambling operators are also in the Gambling Commission's crosshairs. Examples of this have been prosecuted as criminal offences.
Betting exchanges are also typically under intense scrutiny due to the potential for laundering money on these platforms. They are also reviewed for failure to implement safer gambling safeguards and interventions when vulnerable individuals are active on their platforms.
How can I contact the UK Gambling Commission?
You can contact the Gambling Commission by phone.
The numbers to contact are:
Calls are accepted between 9am and 5pm GMT Monday to Friday.
The Gibraltar Gambling Licensing Authority
A number of UK bookies are licensed with both the Gambling Commission and the Gibraltar Gambling Licensing Authority. Gibraltar is a major hub of the sport betting industry, with the many online bookies operating in the territory hiring a significant portion of its inhabitants.
The Gibraltar Gambling Licensing Authority does not just regulate bookmakers or gambling operations based in their territory, but also licenses external operators and newly licensed UK bookies willing to be regulated according to its terms and conditions.
This allows bookmakers to assure their customers that their operations are fair, transparent and meet the highest levels of conduct expected by the Gibraltar Gambling Licensing Authority.
Activities of the Gibraltar Gambling Commission include:
- testing of online casino games
- forcing use of encryption software for online gambling
- ensuring gamblers funds are not pooled with operating funds
- providing guidelines for betting advertising
- ensuring fair payouts by providers
- anti money-laundering operations.
Is gambling online legal in the UK?
Yes, gambling online is legal in the UK. In fact the UK is one of the most gambling-friendly territories in the world. However, do note that there are strict restrictions on gambling for under-18s and gambling is discouraged for persons at risk of problem gambling behaviours.
What is the difference between the Gambling Commission and IBAS?
Gambling regulators are responsible for ensuring that gambling operators do not violate local regulations, but do not involve themselves in resolving individual consumer complaints.
The Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS) serves this function, and adjudicates on disputes between UK licensed gambling operators and their customers based on UK gambling legislation.
This service is offered free of charge in the United Kingdom.
How to recognize newly licensed UK bookmakers?
It is fairly easy to recognize a newly licensed bookmaker.
For a start their branding won't be familiar to you. Gambling operators spend a huge amount of money on advertising, so if you have never heard of or seen the brand before, it is probably new.
Another cue will be massive sign-up bonuses. Because these bookmakers are aggressively trying to build up a customer base, they may offer more attractive sign-up offers than established rivals.
It is also quite simple to run a few Google searches and check on the company's backstory and history. If you don't find much in the way of reviews, complaints or news articles about the company, chances are it is new.
How can I be sure that newly licensed UK sports betting sites are not fraudulent?
The UK Gambling Commission has a convenient search feature on its website that allows you to search for registered gambling businesses. If your UK bookie's name generates a result in these searches, you can be sure you have a legitimate operator. In some cases you may need to track down the bookie's holding company to find license information on the Gambling Commission website.
Can all UK licensed bookmakers accept members from outside the UK?
UK licensed bookmakers can accept members from outside the UK. However, they are not permitted to take in members from countries where gambling is illegal or where they do not have a license to operate. Many UK bookie websites will prevent users from accessing or using their services once they identify that they are attempting to gamble from a restricted location.