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NEWS: British gambling giant William Hill fined record £19M for poor process including weak AML controls

A man walks past a branch of bookmaker William Hill in central London, Britain October 21, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley

BRITAIN’S Gambling Commission has fined William Hill betting group £19.2M ($23.7M) – the biggest penalty ever issued by the regulator – for failing to protect consumers and stop money laundering.

The regulator said the issues at the three companies in the William Hill group – owned by online gaming and betting operator 888 – were so “widespread and alarming” that it seriously considered suspending the firm’s licence.

But Gambling Commission Chief Executive Andrew Rhodes said the company was only allowed to continue to operate after it recognised its failings and worked to implement improvements quickly.

“We found serious non-compliance issues around safer gambling measures … and also anti-money laundering control failings across the company,” Rhodes said.

Shares in 888 traded down 1% in early deals.

Problematic practises in Britain’s multi-billion pound gambling industry have forced the regulator to issue several large fines over the last year and a half. The previous biggest fine of £17 million was handed to Entain last year.

The government has sought to tighten gambling rules in recent years to prevent addiction by capping the maximum stake on terminals and banning the use of credit cards to place bets.

At the William Hill companies, multiple failures were found by the Gambling Commission. One customer spent £23,000 in 20 minutes without any checks, for example, another lost £14,900 in 70 minutes.

Additionally, checks were not made on large sums of money deposited with the William Hill companies.

888, which completed its takeover of William Hill and related companies last year, said the problems which led to the fines related to the period before its ownership. “After William Hill was acquired, the company quickly addressed the identified issues with the implementation of a rigorous action plan,” an 888 spokesperson said.

The entities who will pay the fines will be WHG (International) Limited, which runs and will pay £12.5m – Mr Green Limited, which runs, which will pay £3.7m; and William Hill Organisation Limited, which operates 1,344 gambling premises across Britain and will pay £3m.

Latest figures show parent company 888 reported £1.85bn in revenue for the year up to the end of December 2022, company profits for the year will be published in April.

It’s not the first time the company has faced fines. In 2018 a £6.2m fine was issued by the regulator for similar issues: systemic social responsibility and money laundering failures.

Failures identified by the regulator in the latest fine included allowing a customer to open a new account and spend £23,000 in 20 minutes, all without any checks.

Another social responsibility failure identified was failing to conduct any checks and allowing a different customer to open an account and spend £18,000 in 24 hours.

A third customer was able to spend £32,500 over two days, also without any checks.

Due to “ineffective controls” 331 customers were able to gamble with WHG (International) Limited despite having self-excluded themselves with Mr Green.

Anti-money laundering failures allowed customers to deposit large sums without appropriate checks. Sums deposited were as high as £70,134, which one customer spent and lost in a month.

Another lost £38,000 in five weeks while a third lost £36,000 in four days.

A licence suspension was considered, Gambling Commission chief executive said.

“When we launched this investigation the failings we uncovered were so widespread and alarming serious consideration was given to licence suspension,” Andrew Rhodes said.

“However, because the operator immediately recognised their failings and worked with us to swiftly implement improvements, we instead opted for the largest enforcement payment in our history.”

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