Sarah Garnder: UKGC consultation conclusions due this summer

UKGC issues £780k fine to Buzz Bingo for social responsibility and AML failings

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has accused Buzz Bingo of a range of social responsibility and anti-money laundering failures, handing the operator a fine of £780,000.

An investigation by the regulatory body identified a number of shortcomings between October 2019 and December 2020, including financial triggers being set too high and as a result ‘not sufficiently identifying at-risk players’, with one customer depositing £22,400 within five days without conducting a ‘meaningful interaction’.

An instance in which a customer deposited and lost £12,400 during a six day period with only one interaction stating that the individual was ‘coping well in COVID-19’ and a serpreate example of the operator ‘failing to consider the increased risk’ of harm when two customers won large sums were described as indicative of a lack of engagement with customers who ‘gambled aggressively’ or who displayed high levels of spend.

On social responsibility, the UKGC concluded that staff did not always follow Buzz Bingo’s customer interaction procedures to ensure bettors were comfortable with their spend and felt in control or were offered responsible gambling tools.

Responding to the Commission’s allegations, Dominic Mansour, Buzz Bingo’s Chief Operating Officer, Digital, asserted that the player protection and a ‘players first’ approach served as one of the firm’s core values.

“The fine from the Gambling Commission relates to legacy issues that have now been addressed,” he said. “Buzz Bingo has reviewed and overhauled all its compliance measures and is confident that current policies and processes now meet the standards set. 

“Moreover, Buzz Bingo has increased its current and ongoing investment to enhance all its risk and compliance processes to continually improve player protection.”

With regards to the operator’s AML shortcomings, Buzz Bingo was penalised for implementing triggers promoting source of funds (SOF) which were ‘over reliant on open sources or anecdotal information’ such as customers’ verbal assurances, with an example being given of a large win used as SOF proof.

Additionally, the company required activation of multiple alerts prior to an AML interaction, with one customer hitting nine financial warnings before seeing their account suspended, whilst also keeping ‘insufficient records of AML interactions’ without making the content of discussions clear.

Commenting on the regulatory action, UKGC Executive Director, Helen Venn, added: “As a regulator we expect all operators to effectively implement policies and procedures which make gambling safe and crime-free. Every single gambling business should be aware that we do check that these are in place and are being adhered to. If they are not, we will take action.”

Upon reviewing Buzz Bingo’s operating licence, the UKGC concluded that the company had breached the terms of money laundering and terrorist financing, social responsivity code of practice (SRCP) and ordinary cash provision (OCP) requirements.

The fine comes shortly after the UKGC detailed that it is finding ‘increasing instances’ of operators failing to consider how money laundering and terrorist financing can be connected to problem gambling in a recent report. 

Common ‘poor practices’ identified included delayed customer identification checks and a lack of methodology in risk assessments and ‘vague references’ in operators risk assessments.

However, Buzz Bingo’s Mansour asserted: “Buzz Bingo is fully committed to ensuring it meets the highest standards of compliance across its digital platform, including its anti-money laundering and social responsibility obligations.”

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