888 Hit With Record $10M Fine for Letting Problem Gamblers Play

Posted on: August 31, 2017, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: September 12, 2017, 12:27h.

888 Holdings has been fined £7.8 million ($10 million) by the UK Gambling Commission over serious failings of its social responsibility program. The fine, a record amount for the online gambling industry, was imposed after regulators discovered a technical glitch in 888’s system that allowed thousands of self-excluded gamblers to continue to play.

MP Tom Watson condemns 888 for failings in corporate responsibility
MP Tom Watson of the Labour opposition party called 888’s failures “outrageous” and called on betting companies not to take matters of problem gambling lightly. (Image: The Independent)

The UKGC found that 7,000 players who had signed up for the self-exclusion program at 888 were able to deposit some £3.5 million ($4.5 million) into their accounts despite having voluntarily banned themselves over concerns about their own gambling habits.

“Safeguarding consumers is not optional. This penalty package of just under £8m reflects the seriousness of 888’s failings to protect vulnerable customers,” said UKGC spokesperson Sarah Harrison.

“The 888 sanction package will ensure those affected don’t lose out, that the operator pays the price for its failings via a sum that will go to tackling gambling-related harm, and that independent assurance will be given to see that lessons are learned.”

Irresponsible Gambling

The UKGC said the Gibraltar-based company listed on the London Stock Exchange (L: 888) failed to notice “visible signs of problem gambling” displayed by one customer who was later imprisoned for resorting to theft to fund their habit.

According to the commission, the customer in question placed more than 850,000 bets worth £1.3 million ($1.7 million) on the site in a little more than a year. They were sentenced to 16 months in March 2016 for false accounting and stealing £55,000 ($71,000) from their employer.

“The lack of interaction with the customer, given the frequency, duration and sums of money involved in the gambling, raised serious concerns about 888’s safeguarding of customers at risk of gambling harm,” the commission declared.

The UKGC has made matters of corporate social responsibility a key area of focus in recent years, warning licensees to get serious about issues of problem gambling and money laundering.

Big Betting Backlash

The news comes about a week after the newly-published UKGC gambling prevalence survey data revealed that problem gambling rose slightly (by 0.2 percent) in the UK over the past three years.

In October, the government is expected to publish the results of its long-awaited regulatory review of the gambling industry, which will address concerns about controversial fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) installed in the nation’s bookmaking shops, as well as the proliferation of gambling advertising on TV.

“This outrageous case is more evidence of a gambling industry that needs to do more to protect vulnerable customers,” said Tom Watson MP, deputy leader of the Labour opposition, whose party is fighting to have the maximum stakes of FOBTs reduced from £100 ($129) to £2 ($2.60).

“With 430,000 problem gamblers in the UK and over 2 million more at risk of addiction, the sector has to take responsibility and help people not to bet more than they can afford,” Watson said.

888’s shares actually climbed on the London Stock Exchange following news of the fine, as many investors breathed a sigh of relief that sanctions weren’t more severe and the company didn’t lose its license to operate.