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William Hill Group businesses to pay record £19.2m for failures

Photo via UK Gambling Commission

By Josie Clarke, PA Consumer Affairs Correspondent, and Chronicle staff

Three gambling businesses owned by William Hill will pay a total of £19.2 million for “widespread and alarming” social responsibility and anti-money laundering failures, the UK Gambling Commission announced on Tuesday.

The settlement is the largest in the Gambling Commission’s history.
Gibraltar-registered WHG (International) Limited, which runs williamhill.com, will pay £12.5 million; Malta-registered Mr Green Limited, which runs mrgreen.com, will pay £3.7 million; and UK-registered William Hill Organisation Limited, which operates 1,344 gambling premises across Britain, will pay £3 million.

The UK Gambling Commission chief executive, Andrew Rhodes, said: “When we launched this investigation the failings we uncovered were so widespread and alarming serious consideration was given to licence suspension.”

“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.”

Social responsibility failures at William Hill businesses included allowing one customer to open a new account and spend £23,000 in 20 minutes, allowing another to open an account and spend £18,000 in 24 hours, and a third able to spend £32,500 over two days – all without any checks.

Ineffective controls allowed 331 customers to gamble with WHG (International) Limited despite having self-excluded with Mr Green.

Anti-money laundering (AML) failures included allowing customers to deposit large amounts without carrying out appropriate checks – 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.

A spokesman for Gibraltar-registered 888 Holdings, which owns William Hill, said: “The settlement relates to the period when William Hill was under the previous ownership and management.”

“After William Hill was acquired, the company quickly addressed the identified issues with the implementation of a rigorous action plan.”

“The entire group shares the Gambling Commission’s commitment to improve compliance standards across the industry and we will continue to work collaboratively with the regulator and other stakeholders to achieve this.”

The developments were being closely monitored in Gibraltar, where a spokesperson for No.6 Convent Place said the settlement related to the management of UK customers in a historical period which finished some 18 months ago and started nearly three years ago.

“We note that none of the relevant cases produced evidence of criminal spend,” the spokesperson said.

“During the relevant period, there was also regulatory engagement with this licence holder by the Gibraltar Gambling Division, primarily on the management of non- UK customers.”

“This regulatory engagement was thorough and resulted in robust compliance advice being provided and a degree of enforcement activity.”

“Following Brexit migration, William Hill now only serves UK customers from Gibraltar and is dual regulated for that purpose.”

“The Gibraltar Gambling Division’s most recent findings were that AML/TF systems and controls were ‘satisfactory’ and we also believe that significant improvements have now been made by the licensee which meet UK standards on both AML and social responsibility.”

“The findings in this case are not in relation to current standards, but historical practices.”

The UK Gambling Commission said all £19.2 million will be directed towards “socially responsible purposes” as part of a regulatory settlement.

The previous largest case was a £17 million action taken against Entain in August last year.

Will Prochaska, strategy director at Gambling with Lives, a charity set up by families bereaved by gambling-related suicide, said: “Fines won’t stop the gambling industry from deliberately exploiting its customers and driving hundreds every year to suicide.

“Knowledge that this record fine was coming didn’t prevent 888 from acquiring William Hill, they merely treated it as a cost of doing business.

“The deaths will continue until the Gambling Commission uses the powers it already has to remove gambling firms’ licences and hold individual executives liable for these failures, or until the Government announces significant reforms to gambling regulation.

“In the UK we desperately need the Government to end gambling advertising and stop gambling companies from luring people to gamble more than they can afford.”

The William Hill settlement comes a week after the UK commission fined two operators owned by Kindred Group a combined £7.2 million and is the largest enforcement case taken on by the regulator.

Mr Rhodes said: “In the last 15 months we have taken unprecedented action against gambling operators, but we are now starting to see signs of improvement.

“There are indications that the industry is doing more to make gambling safer and reducing the possibility of criminal funds entering their businesses.”

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