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Marketing restrictions can send players offshore Gambling trade organizations say that restricting advertising for licensed operators helps legal operators. However, gambling opponents argue that advertising should be reduced to avoid problem gambling and expose young people to gambling.

Let’s be clear before we start: When we refer to offshore or black market sites for gambling, we mean online casinos and sportsbooks which do not have a license in the jurisdiction where they are located. Unregulated sites are more risky than licensed ones. They also take tax and revenue away from the formal market.

The “growing global black market

There have been a lot of eye-opening statistics over the past year about offshore gaming’s rise in response to a tighter regulatory environment. The Betting and Gaming Council, which represents 90% of legal UK operators, ordered research to examine the UK and European offshore landscapes in February. The American Gambling Association published its most recent data on offshore gambling in the USA in December.

Both reports showed that large amounts are being spent on offshore gambling sites, rather than in the formal economic system. PwC, which conducted research for the BGC, concluded that “while it is impossible to determine the impact of individual regulatory characteristics,” the assessment suggested that jurisdictions with higher unlicensed market shares tend to have one or more restrictive regulatory and licensing characteristics span>

What does the black market in American and European gambling markets look like?


  • UK – The number of online players has doubled over the past two years, going from 220,000 to 460,000.

  • Norway: 66% goes to the black markets. Existing stake limits, affordability checks, and advertising bans are in place.

  • Sweden 38% of self-excluded gamblers move to offshore casinos to continue gambling

  • France: 57% gambling occurs at offshore sites

  • Italy: 23% players use offshore websites.

  • Spain: The black market holds a 20% share.


  • Americans spend $510.9bn annually with unlicensed operators. This is a $44.2bn loss in revenue for the regulated sector, and more than $13.3bn in lost tax revenue.

  • Total offshore spending was broken down as $63,8bn spent on sports betting, $337.9b for casino iGaming, and $109.2b on unregulated gambling machines.

  • This represents almost 40% of the US’s sports betting market. Surprisingly, the illegal iGaming marketplace is almost three times larger than the legal one. Only six states in the US allow legal online gambling – New Jersey Pennsylvania Delaware Delaware Connecticut Michigan West Virginia and Delaware. Nearly half (48%) have played online at an offshore casino in the past year.

  • According to the report, the gambling industry is one of the most regulated in the US. “Whether it’s financial solvency and other licensing needs, know your customers or anti-money launder regulations, legal gaming operators comply with thousands and regulations that are designed to protect consumers and ensure confidence in the market for gaming.”

A ban on advertising cards?

For regulated gambling operators, the UK has already established strict advertising and marketing guidelines. The 2005 Gambling Act governs these rules. It states that gambling ads must comply with responsible gambling guidelines and must not be:

  • “Report, condone, or encourage gambling behavior that is socially irresponsible, or could lead to financial or social harm.

  • Use the potential for vulnerability, aspirations and credulity of young people, children, or others, to exploit their knowledge.

  • This suggests that gambling may be a way to solve financial problems.

  • Gambling can lead to sexual success, seduction or increased attractiveness.

  • You can appeal especially to young people or children by being associated with youth culture.

  • Feature anyone who is under 25 and plays a significant part in an advertisement.

Operators, through the BGC have also implemented Code for Socially Responsible Advertising. This increases the standards all operators agree to follow and gives them a range of measures to increase the social responsibility of advertising.

The Advertising Standards Authority announced in April that it would ban gambling ads featuring sports stars, celebrities and social media influencers. There are strong marketing regulations already in place. Many of these have been developed and implemented by operators.

The government’s approach to gambling has changed between 2005 and today. The Gambling Act allowed gambling ads to be broadcast on television after the watershed in 2005. (Lottery and bingo aside. These have always been allowed to advertise at any hour of the day). This was to reflect the fact that gambling had become a popular leisure activity. Regulations are now in place to limit advertising and the government’s view on gambling is becoming more one of public health.

Recent advertising regulations have largely focused on protecting children under 18 from gambling exposure. It is therefore difficult to discuss more severe marketing restrictions. It is possible to conclude that offshore revenue will rise if there are more restrictions on advertising.

We can add flavor to this discussion by looking at recent and potential future regulatory changes such as mandatory spending limits or prohibition of bonuses to see how regulation could impact offshore gambling.

Player replies to compulsory spending limits

Gambling Review will likely include spending limits and per-player budgets. These measures are already in effect in Norway. Norway was once regarded as a shining example for a gambling jurisdiction with high regulations. However, it now has 66% black market share, the highest in Europe. This is due to increasing regulatory standards, according to the BGC research.

The UK’s BGC used a YouGov poll in which gamblers were asked what they would do if the UK implemented spending limits and affordability checks.

  • 67% respondents would choose an offshore site if this measure was introduced

  • 64% of respondents also stated that they were concerned about the rise in problem gambling due to increased illegal site use.

  • Finally, 70% of respondents said that they wouldn’t be willing to conduct affordability checks. The poll didn’t define affordability checks which could impact the reliability and validity of the answers. This is a significant concern.

Regulators stressed that any affordability checks could be non-invasive. This poll reveals shocking results. It clearly shows that UK players would accept spending limits and leave the formal market, in spite of the potential risks.

Recommendations under the regulatory hammer

UKGC has had a problem with the marketing of bonuses. The UKGC has in the past updated the LCCPs in order to make sure that bonuses are clearly advertised and that terms and conditions are clear and easily understood. In 2022, the Commission updated its guidance on fair terms, and practices, highlighting operators’ unfair terms. Operators were also urged to reconsider bonuses and comply with wagering requirements.

Some anti-gambling campaigners believe that a ban on player bonuses is the best way to go. However, the BGC reports that 69% of customers disagree with this view and that one third of gamblers would consider black market gambling if they were not allowed to receive promotions or bonuses from licensed online gambling sites.

Banning bonuses altogether is extreme and unjustified. However, there are better ways forward. This is evident by the many examples of operators and affiliates promoting fair bonuses that do benefit players. For example, free spins without wagering requirements. Online gambling is all about bonuses. While there are some regulations that can be implemented, such as limiting wagering requirements, a ban on all bonuses is unlikely to cause harm to the legal market and give consumers more reason to go to the illegal markets.

Gambling Review will not ban bonuses because they are so important to online gamblers. It is possible that bonuses with high wagering requirements and more restrictions will be covered.

Are consumers aware of the differences between offshore and onshore?

If legal gambling sites cannot advertise, and offshore sites can, then it is possible that players will choose the offshore site due to exposure. It is difficult for players to distinguish between legal and illegal gambling sites.

The American Gambling Association’s annual survey for 2019-2020 found that there was “widespread confusion” between legal and illegal US operators. 74% of the respondents believed it was important to only use onshore gambling sites. However, 52% of those who gambled offshore thought they were using licensed US sites. 55% of those who placed offshore bets also believed that they were using licensed US sites. Only 10% of Swedish players can spot an offshore vs licensed gambling site.

It begs the question: Are players conscious of their decision to gamble offshore? Or is it because offshore gambling sites are less regulated than other gambling sites? If consumers simply choose sites based upon the products and services offered, then legal gambling alternatives must be attractive and competitive.

Are more restrictions better for gaming?

Lobbyists and campaigners against gambling have long maintained that regulation equals greater safety and protection of players. However, research from gambling trade organizations in multiple markets shows that this does not seem to be true. It could actually have the opposite effect and provide more incentive to gamble offshore.

Operators should be guided by evidence-based approaches and proportionality. Online gambling must be regulated to provide protection, but not eliminate player options and the main element of online gambling, the fun. Regulation shouldn’t be too intrusive because, if it reaches this point, the black marketplace will become more appealing to players by offering better products, bonuses, and games.

Although we are unable to give an exact answer to the question of whether increased marketing restrictions on regulated gaming help the black market we can certainly advocate that regulators take notice of the expanding offshore economy as a response to increasing regulations, regardless if they’re affecting the market or any other areas. The entire industry must work harder to ensure players are able to distinguish legal and safe gambling sites.

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