Betting firm 888 fined £9.4m after customers lost thousands in pandemic | Gambling

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Online casino company 888 will pay a £9.4m fine, the third highest in the history of British gambling regulation, over multiple failings that led to customers racking up huge losses during the depths of the Covid pandemic.

The Gambling Commission highlighted a series of transgressions that it warned could force it to consider 888’s suitability to hold a licence to operate in Great Britain.

The fine comes just weeks before the government is due to publish proposals to reform gambling regulation, potentially including affordability checks to make sure people can afford the amounts they are betting.

The regulator said 888 was not properly identifying customers who were at risk of harm because it did not carry out financial checks until they had deposited £40,000.

In one case, the company did no checks on a customer until they had lost £37,000 in just six weeks during 2020, a time when the commission had asked companies to be cautious about luring in people who might be more vulnerable due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In another case, 888 placed a deposit cap of £1,300 a month on the account of an NHS worker whom it knew earned £1,400 a month.

An audit carried out in October 2020 found that most of the company’s social responsibility interactions with customers consisted of a single email describing the available responsible gambling tools and did not involve customer interaction.

Andrew Rhodes, the chief executive of the Gambling Commission, pointed out that this was 888’s second big fine, after it was hit with a £7.8m penalty in 2017, a record at the time.

“The circumstances of the last enforcement action may be different but both cases involve failing consumers – and this is something that is not acceptable,” said Rhodes.

“Today’s fine is one of our largest to date, and all should be clear that if there is a repeat of the failures at 888 then we have to seriously consider the suitability of the operator to uphold the licensing objectives and keep gambling safe and crime-free.

“Consumers in Britain deserve to know that when they gamble, they are participating in a leisure activity where operators play their part in keeping them safe and are carrying out checks to ensure money is crime-free.”

The online casino company, which is in the process of buying William Hill’s UK assets, also failed to carry out proper “source of funds” (SOF) checks to prevent money laundering.

This included accepting verbal assurances from customers on their employment income, not setting out which documents should be requested as part of SOF checks.

One customer was allowed to spend £65,835 in just five months without SOF checks being carried out.

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Itai Pazner, the chief executive of 888, said: “We recognise our responsibility to make gambling safer and regret that previous implementation of our processes failed to meet required standards in the UK. We accept the findings of the UKGC’s investigation of some of 888’s former policies and procedures and have taken immediate appropriate action to improve and address the failings.

“Over recent years we have made significant investments in safer gambling, including more than doubling the size of our compliance team since 2019. We will continue to work closely with the UKGC, our peers and other stakeholders to drive continuous improvement in the industry.”

The largest ever fine from the Gambling Commission was meted out to casino company Caesars in April 2020, a month after an £11.6m fine handed down to Betway.

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