In the first half of 2022, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has already handed out fines in excess of £20 million to online gambling operators found to be in breach of license conditions. The bulk of the offences were related to failings in anti-money laundering (AML) and social responsibility.
The UKGC is known as one of the strictest gambling regulators in the world, and operators are expected to follow the rules or face the consequences. No group is too big or too small to be exempt from their responsibilities, and fines and even license suspensions have been imposed on some of the most recognisable names in the industry.
The fines and suspensions are all for similar reasons to the majority of those imposed in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, when operators paid a record £3.21 million for non-compliance. Most of the money collected from penalties is donated to the three-year National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms.
Biggest fine of the year for 888
888 UK Limited is one of the country’s most prominent operators, with 78 active gambling sites in the portfolio including 888.com and a number of well-known bingo sites. In March, the Commission reported that they had handed them the single largest fine of the year at £9.4 million. While this number is lower than the £13 million penalty given to Caesars Entertainment UK Limited in 2020, it accounts for almost half of the financial sanctions imposed in 2022 so far.
It is not the first time that 888 has been penalised, as in 2017 the group paid £7.8 million for failings in safeguarding customers. The circumstances of that penalty action differ from the latest, but the two occasions both involved falling short at protecting vulnerable players. The UKGC chief commissioner issued a statement casting doubt on the future of 888 in the UK should there be any more shortcomings in the future.
In one instance, a customer lost £37,000 in just six weeks during the pandemic lockdowns, but received no intervention from the responsible gaming unit. Another player, known to the operator to work for the NHS for a pay of £1,400 per month, was allowed to set a deposit limit of £1,300 for the same period. Another area where 888 fell short was in managing customers with multiple accounts, allowing users to deposit well beyond their means and with inadequate checks because they had not conducted the requisite know your customer (KYC) checks.
On the side of money laundering, the group was found to have fallen short on many occasions when checking source of funds (SOF) for large depositors. One player spent £65,835 in the course of five months without a single SOF check being carried out.
Transparency in online casino reviews
Regulatory action and penalty fines are not something often brought up in online casino reviews. Indeed, finding honest and transparent casino reviews can be a challenge for the average user. Most review sites gloss over any misdeeds or examples of bad practice, instead presenting a purely positive image of the sites that they evaluate. If a casino assessment site makes mention of fines and suspensions, there is a greater chance that the reviews on its pages are genuine and not merely flattering.
Are UK casino sites doing enough?
888 was not the only operator to face penalties this year. The parent company of Grosvenor Casino and Mecca Bingo, Rank Digital Gaming, paid just over £700,000 for failings in its responsible gambling duty of care. Sky Betting and Gaming were fined £1.17 million for targeting advertising to vulnerable customers. Promotional emails were sent to thousands of customers who had self-excluded and to many more who had chosen to opt out of email contact. The regulator stated that the fine would have been larger but for swift action taken by the operator.
These and other fines handed down this year point to a persistent problem in the industry – operators are simply not doing enough to comply with customer safety and AML requirements. The Commission’s report on Compliance and Enforcement, published at the end of 2021, concluded that many operators simply were not allocating enough resources to these areas. Even more concerning was the finding that some were prioritising commercial objectives over regulatory compliance.
Unfortunately, the results so far from 2022 indicate that many operators still have not learned from the mistakes of others in the industry. This fiscal year looks set to break the previous year’s record for the amount of fines handed down. This could be due in part to more rigorous inspection by the UKGC to seek out failings. The Commission is updating its guidance in accordance with the findings of the Compliance and Enforcement report.