The Gambling Commission is requiring William Hill Group to pay an eye-watering fine of £19.2 million for social responsibility and anti-money laundering failures by three of its companies:
- WHG (International) Limited, which runs williamhill.com, will pay £12.5 million;
- Mr Green Limited, which runs mrgreen.com, will pay £3.7 million; and
- William Hill Organization Limited, which operates 1,344 gambling premises across Britain, will pay £3 million.
This fine comes just a week after the Commission fined two operators owned by Kindred Group plc a combined £7.2 million. It is the largest enforcement action the Gambling Commission has enforced so far – topping the £17 million action taken against Entain back in August 2022.
The Gambling Commission summarises the failures by the William Hill Group as follows:
Social responsibility failures:
The failures to comply with social responsibility rules included:
- One customer was allowed to open a new account and spend £23,000 in 20 minutes. Another customer was allowed to open an account and spend £18,000 in 24 hours. A third customer was allowed to open a new account and spend £32,500 over two days. All of these occurred without any checks.
- Failing to identify certain customers at risk of experiencing gambling related harm and failing to carry out checks at an early stage in the customer's journey – one customer lost £14,902 in 70 minutes. Another customer lost £54,252 in four weeks without the operator seeking income evidence, carrying out adequate checks, or using any other effective method to identify risk of harm.
- Having insufficient controls which exposed new or returning customers to the risk of substantial losses in a short period of time.
- Failing to apply a 24-hour delay between receiving a request for an increase in a credit limit and granting it – one customer was allowed to immediately place a £100,000 bet when his credit limit was £70,000.
- Ineffective controls allowed 331 customers to gamble despite having self-excluded.
- After its retail premise re-opened following the Covid pandemic lockdown, the operator allowed one customer to lose £10,600 in two days without a safer gambling interaction.
- Despite being unknown and staking £42,253 in 130 bets over a three-day period, staff did not identify one customer as being at risk of experiencing harms associated with gambling or undertake any customer interactions.
Anti-money laundering failures
The failures to comply with AML rules included:
- Allowing customers to deposit large amounts without conducting appropriate checks or requesting source of funds evidence – one customer was able to spend and lose £70,134 in a month, another to lose £38,000 in five weeks and another to lose £36,000 in four days.
- Policies, procedures and controls lacked guidance on appropriate action to take following the results of customer profiling.
- Procedures and controls lacked hard stops to prevent further spend and mitigate against money laundering risks before customer risk profiling is completed.
- AML staff training provided insufficient information on risks and how to manage them.
The £19.2 million will be directed towards socially responsible causes as part of the regulatory settlement. The Gambling Commission is also imposing more licence conditions to ensure a business board member oversees an improvement plan, and that it undergoes a third-party audit to assess that it is effectively implementing its AML and safer gambling policies, procedures and controls.
Since the beginning of 2022, the Commission has concluded 26 enforcement cases and operators have paid over £76 million due to regulatory failures. The Commission indicated in its press release that it believes that the industry is now doing better when it comes to complying with the rules due to the Commission's enforcement programme.
However, the Times poignantly points out that “the fundamental problem is that there is a trade-off between implementing rules to protect customers and profitability”.
Gambling operators are advised to ensure that they review their processes and rules to cover the situations outlined above, and to avoid the prospect of steep fines and adverse publicity.
Operators are using algorithms to spot gambling harms or criminal risk more quickly, interacting with consumers sooner, and generally having more effective policies and procedures in place.