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The Gambling Commission (UKGC) is set to receive increased powers to block websites offering illegal gambling under the UK’s new Criminal Justice Bill.

The Criminal Justice Bill is a wide-ranging amendment to UK criminal law, aiming to improve the ability of police and other law enforcement agencies to combat a variety of different crimes.

It has passed its first and second readings in the House of Commons and is currently being discussed at the committee stage.

Once approved there, it will move onto the report stage before undergoing a third reading in the House of Commons.

It will then be passed on to the House of Lords for further consideration before being signed into law.

Increased powers for IP suspension

Part of the bill aims to improve the ability of law enforcement and other investigative agencies to suspend IP addresses and domain names that are being used in serious crime.

The law will allow police and other agencies to apply for court orders requiring IP or domain name providers to block access to any website thought to be used for criminal purposes.

At present, UK law enforcement is able to gain access to certain IP addresses blocked through public and private partnerships, whereby providers will often voluntarily suspend domain and IP addresses following a request.

However, new powers for law enforcement are set to be introduced because voluntary suspension of IP and domain addresses is not always an option.

In cases where domains are listed outside the UK, for example, the same voluntary arrangements are not available, and internet infrastructure providers based abroad will only take action following the handing down of a court order.

The new law therefore enables UK law enforcement agencies to apply for court orders which can be served to entities based outside the country.

New powers for the UKGC

In a public bill committee discussion yesterday (16 January), Labour MP Carolyn Harris asked Minister for Policing Chris Philp (pictured) if the law may be used against “illegal gambling sites and crypto casinos”.

In response, Philp said that where illegal activity is taking place, the provisions of the bill would apply.

The bill also includes provisions for “a member of staff of the Gambling Commission of at least the grade of executive director” to make applications for court orders to be handed down to those it expects to be involved in crime.

“That is very helpful and will strengthen our hand with overseas entities that might not respond to a polite request but are willing to act when there is a court order,” Philp said.

“I hope that is something that we can all get behind. It will help protect our constituents from online crime, particularly fraud, but other forms of illegal activity, including illegal gambling.”

The new powers should help the UKGC in its ongoing efforts to crack down on unlicensed gambling operators.

In 2021/22, the regulator received additional funding to help tackle illegal gambling, resulting in a 500% increase in enforcement actions against unlicensed operators in 2022/23.

Between May and July 2023, the UKGC was able to restrict access to four of the top 10 illegal domains in the UK via geo-blocking, while web traffic to the market’s largest illegal sites fell by 46%.

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