William Hill continues to put itself on the bad side of the UK’s regulatory agencies. Less than a month after coming to an agreement with the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority to remedy unfair promotional marketing practices, the gambling operator has been fined £6.2 million by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) for failing to protect problem gamblers and prevent money laundering.
“We will use the full range of our enforcement powers to make gambling fairer and safer,” said UKGC Executive Director Neil McArthur in a news release. “This was a systemic failing at William Hill which went on for nearly two years and today’s penalty package – which could exceed £6.2m – reflects the seriousness of the breaches.”
“Gambling businesses have a responsibility to ensure that they keep crime out of gambling and tackle problem gambling – and as part of that they must be constantly curious about where the money they are taking is coming from.”
In an investigation, the Gambling Commission found that William Hill fell short of money laundering and social responsibility regulations numerous times between November 2014 and August 2016. In that time, ten customers were able to deposit sizable sums of money – six-figures worth – that were “linked to criminal offences.” William Hill profited £1.2 million from these players.
William Hill will be required to surrender that money and make any players whole who might have been victimized by the customers who should not have been permitted to gamble. The other £5 is a punitive measure.
Here is a sampling of the violations committed by William Hill, per the UKGC press release:
• A customer was allowed to deposit £654,000 over nine months without source of funds checks being carried out. The customer lived in rented accommodation and was employed within the accounts department of a business earning around £30,000 per annum.
• A customer was allowed to deposit £541,000 over 14 months after the operator made the assumption that the customer’s potential income could be £365,000 per annum based on a verbal conversation and without further probing. The reality was that the customer was earning around £30,000 a year and was funding his gambling habit by stealing from his employer.
• A customer who was allowed to deposit £653,000 in an 18 month period activated a financial alert at WHG. The alert resulted in a grading of ‘amber risk’ which required, in accordance with the licensee’s anti-money laundering policy, a customer profile to be reviewed. The file was marked as passed to managers for review but this did not occur due to a systems failure. The customer was able to continue gambling for a further six months despite continuing to activate financial alerts.
• A customer was identified by WHG as having an escalating gambling spend with deposit levels exceeding £100,000. WHG interacted with the customer seeking assurance that the customer was ‘comfortable with their level of spend’. After receiving verbal assurance and without investigating the wider circumstances the operator continued to allow the customer to gamble. In our view that interaction was inadequate and did not review the customer’s behaviour sufficiently to identify if their behaviour was indicative of problem gambling.
• A customer exceeded deposits of £147,000 in an 18 month period with an escalating spend and losses of £112,000. WHG systems identified the issue but its only response over a 12 month period was to send two automated social responsibility emails. Our view is that this action alone was not sufficient given the customer’s gambling behaviour coupled with the severity of the losses.
So basically, William Hill saw players deposit tons of money and possibly lose tons of money or not really be able to prove they actually had this sort of money to spend and just said, “Yeah, it’s cool. Have fun.”
William Hill, for its part, has said that it has cooperated with the UKGC and is working to improve its customer screening procedures.