Restrictions on television advertising by bookmakers, casinos and online gambling sites were lifted last year in the UK. After the UK arms of both Yahoo and MSN opened themselves up to UK licensed gambling advertising last month, most of us could foresee Google UK following suit despite its longtime anti-gambling stand. When the announcement came, however, Google denied that it was in reaction to the other search engines but said it has been in the works for some time.

“This is not a decision that’s been made quickly; it’s been something that’s been under discussion for months,” said Google’s James Cashmore.

“Dennis Woodside (Google VP and MD for UK, Benelux & Ireland) and the team have been reviewing policies both from a legal and user need point of view at a local level,” he said. “I definitely think that local markets will make more decisions in the future.”

Many experts are seeing this turnaround by the big search markets as another sign of the economic times. Lifting the restrictions on gambling advertising has the potential to bring in millions of dollars in new revenues to Google as well as the other major search markets.

Google has very specific regulations for which companies will be allowed to advertise including that the advertiser must be registered with the Gambling Commission and provide them with a valid operating license. Those who are within the European Economic Area but outside the UK must be licensed to advertise gambling in their home countries. Ads will only be available through Google’s search results pages not on their content network sites and all gambling ads will be automatically classified as Non-Family Safe.

The decision has caused some controversy among both politicians and religious groups. They say that the financial crisis is creating enough money woes without Google encouraging gambling.