The UK Gambling Commission has imposed its highest-ever fine on a UK bookmaker after hitting William Hill with a £19 million penalty for failures described as both ‘widespread’ and ‘alarming’.
Horror stories include one customer who was able to wager £23,000 within 20 minutes of opening their account – without any verification or proof of funds checks being carried out.
Another wagered £18,000 within 24 hours without any further due diligence, while a third spent a whopping £32,000 on betting within 48 hours of sign-up – again, no additional checks were made on the individual in question.
Operators under William Hill’s banner also allowed their customers to lose huge sums without invoking any problem gambling checks or alerts – one punter lost nearly £15,000 in little over an hour, while another lost £54,000 in barely a month with no intervention or safety measures being enacted.
Other failings include allowing one customer to wager £100,000 on a single bet (their limit was £70,000), while 331 others were able to bet with William Hill despite self-excluding from sister company Mr Green.
Many other breaches were cited by the Commission in what has to be one of the lengthiest rap sheets ever reported following an investigation into a bookmaker.
A Fine Mess
The William Hill Group will pay £12.5 million of the £19 million total, with subsidiary Mr Green coughing up £3.7 million and William Hill Organization Ltd, which ran the firm’s high street empire prior to the mass sale to 888, owes £3 million.
As well as the fine, the William Hill Group will now be subject to extensive third-party auditing until a time when their social responsibility and anti-money laundering practices are at a sufficient level.
Their UK licence is not thought to be under threat, although Commission chief Andrew Rhodes revealed that their failings were so severe that the regulator almost suspended William Hill’s licence.
“When we launched this investigation, the failings we uncovered were so widespread and alarming serious consideration was given to licence suspension,” he confirmed.
“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.”
Cost of Business
Given that William Hill have been in hot water before with the Commission – they were fined £6.2 million in 2018 for a similar set of failings, the question is why didn’t they learn their lesson?
Or, perhaps, the more pertinent query is do bookmakers really care about regulatory measures? Are these merely a ‘cost of business’ instead? It has been reported that William Hill had ‘set aside’ £15 million it anticipated it would need to pay in fines.
It should be noted that the fines pre-date 888’s takeover of William Hill’s business assets, and that they have since been responsible for a culture of improvement noted by Rhodes.
But at a time when the government is readying its fresh take on the Gambling Act, such regulatory action does not paint the industry in the best of lights – how can anyone argue for ‘light touch’ reform when one of the major bookmaking firms has behaved in such egregious fashion?
William Hill aren’t the only ones of course. Since the start of 2022, the Commission has accrued more than £76 million in fines from 26 separate investigations.
And that too perhaps raises questions about the effectiveness of the regulator. They have collected more in fines in 15 months than they had done in years previous. Why now? Are protective standards so poor at UK licensed bookies, or does the Commission feel it has a point to prove as its own position is considered as part of industry reform?