Online sports book Betway achieved the dubious honor of becoming the UK’s most robustly punished gambling operator Thursday, as it agreed to pay a record £11.6 million ($14.6 million) fine to settle a litany of compliance failings.
Short of license revocation, it’s the harshest penalty the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has ever imposed on one of its licensees, dwarfing the previous record – the £7.8 million paid by 888 in 2017 for similar transgressions.
Most of Betway’s infractions were linked to seven high-rolling VIP customers, some of whom were spending stolen money.
The UKGC found that a lack of checks on individual customers’ affordability and source of funds allowed £5.8 million ($7.3 million) to flow through the company coffers, which the regulator believed was likely to be the proceeds of crime.
Performing these checks is a condition of an operator’s licensing and anti-money laundering (AML) responsibilities.
£8 Million Deposit
In one instance, Betway failed to inquire into the source of funds of one customer who had deposited over £8 million ($10 million) and lost over £4 million ($5 million) during a four-year period, despite the account being flagged as a potential risk 20 times.
The gambler, described by the UKGC only as “Customer B,” was one of the Betway’s biggest-spending clients. Customer B’s account was only suspended when police made contact with the company.
Another gambler, Customer C, deposited £1.6 million ($2 million) and lost more than £700,000 ($882,000) over a three-year period, despite being unemployed at the time.
The customer provided false evidence of his employment when Betway inquired about his funds. But these were never verified by the operator, UKGC said.
Customers C’s account was eventually closed after the customer contacted Betway himself to confess that the money was not his – presumably in the hope of getting it back.
“The actions of Betway suggest there was little regard for the welfare of its VIP customers or the impact on those around them,” said Richard Watson, UKGC Executive Director, in an official statement.
“The treatment and handling of high value customers is a significant piece of that work and operators are in no doubt about the need to tackle the issue at speed,” he added.
The UK government is planning an overhaul of its gambling regulations, and the VIP schemes used to encourage high rollers to keep on playing have recently come into hard focus.
Despite ramping up fines for errant operators over the past three years, the UKGC has come under fire for being too lenient with its licensees.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris has previously said it was “not fit for purpose.”
On Thursday, she told The Guardian that the UKGC should have suspended Betway’s license, asking, “Just how exploitative has a gambling company got to be…?”