William Hill Group sets new record with £19.2m penalty

William Hill Group sets new record with £19.2m penalty

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has issued a record £19.2m regulatory penalty against William Hill Group’s three core businesses.

WHG (International) Limited, which operates the William Hill Online business, will pay the largest settlement at £12.5m, followed by online casino Mr Green with a £3.7m charge and retail operator William Hill Organisation Limited with a £3m settlement.

As with many other operators to have fallen under the UKGC’s enforcement spotlight, William Hill failed to meet several social responsibility and anti-money laundering licensing requirements. 

The compliance  failures in question took place between May and 18 October in the case of William Hill Online and Mr Green, and between 1 January 2020 and 18 October 2021 in the case of the group’s retail business. SBC News William Hill Group sets new record with £19.2m penalty

Andrew Rhodes, Gambling Commission CEO, said: “When we launched this investigation the failings we uncovered were so widespread and alarming serious consideration was given to licence suspension.

“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.”

Specific failings saw insufficient customer protection controls in place, with three separate bettors able to spend £23,000 in 20 minutes, £18,000 in 24 hours and £32,500 in two days without any checks conducted.

Additionally, ineffective group-wide controls allowed 331 customers to bet online with William HIll despite being self-excluded from Mr Green. The former was also criticised for failing to identify harm and intervene early on, and the latter cited for failing to identify at risk customers, such as one who lost £14,902.

The company did not apply a 24-hour delay between receiving a request for an increase and credit limit and granting it, and controls for new and returning customers were deemed insufficient, exposing some retail bettors to ‘substantial losses’ over short time periods such as £11,400 in the first 30 days.

At the retail level, changes in customer behaviour were also not identified, with some customers only engaged after an £18,000 bet was placed and accepted, and protection of new customers was criticised across both retail and online verticals.

On AML, both William HIll Online and Mr Green were called out for lacking ‘hard stops’ to prevent further spend and mitigate risk during customer profiling, for failing to take action based on the results of said profiles and failing to adequately train staff on risk management.

Both brands were also condemned for allowing customers to deposit large amounts without conducting ‘appropriate checks’ – allowing a William Hill customer to lose £36,000 in four days and a Mr Green customer to deposit £73,535 and lose £14,068 in four months.

Lately, William Hill retail customers were able to stake large amounts without monitoring or a ‘high enough standard’ of scrutiny’, such as failing to request source of funds (SoF) checks or obtain documentation in cases of high spend and losses, with one example seeing a high-street punter stake £276,942 and lose £24,395 in two months.

The £19.2m charge sets a new record for UKGC, surpassing the previous all-time high set by Entain last year, which was handed a £17m penalty for a similar raft of compliance failures.

As the Gambling Act review White Paper publication date looms, the Commission continues to maintain its harsh stance towards operators which breach licensing requirements around social responsibility and AML.

The enforcement action against William Hill comes just one week after a £7.1m fine against Kindred Group’s 32Red and Platinum Gaming brands, whilst so far 2023 has seen charges levied against 10bet (£620k), InTouch Games (£6.1m), TonyBet (£442k) and Vivaro Gaming (£337k).

Rhodes continued: “In the last 15 months we have taken unprecedented action against gambling operators, but we are now starting to see signs of improvement. 

“There are indications that the industry is doing more to make gambling safer and reducing the possibility of criminal funds entering their businesses.

“Operators are using algorithms to spot gambling harms or criminal risk more quickly, interacting with consumers sooner, and generally having more effective policies and procedures in place.”

During Q1, 888 Holdings notified shareholders that it had reserved £15m cash to settle a UKGC penalty summoned on William Hill’s business. 888 is yet to publish its FY2022 results, due at the end of March.

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