GC hands out penalty packages worth £4.5m

| By Joanne Christie
The UK's Gambling Commission has imposed penalties worth £4.5m (€5.2m/$5.8m) on four online operators as the regulator continues to clamp down on licensees in breach of regulations
The Gambling Commission of Great Britain has imposed penalty packages totalling £4.5m (€5.2m/$5.8m) on four online operators as the regulator continues to clamp down on licensees in breach of regulations. The biggest penalty package, of £2.2m, is to be paid by InTouch Games in lieu of a fine. Similar penalties were also levied on Betit Operations Limited (£1.4m), MT Secure Trade (£700,000), while BestBet Limited will pay a financial penalty of £230,972. The Commission said these penalties related to the companies’ failures to safeguard against money laundering and protect consumers from gambling harm. InTouch Games was found to have inadequate money laundering processes in place, and also lacked robust systems for determining players’ sources of wealth. It was also found to have failed to be proactive in engaging with customers to mitigate the risk of harm. One example given was that it had not questioned a VIP customer whose spend increased from £200 to £10,000 per month. InTouch games will pay £2.2m to a charity that tackles gambling related harm, as well as £14,565 towards the Commission’s costs related to the investigation. Betit Operations, which operates the kaboo.com and highroller.com sites, was singled out for not distinguishing between the risks related to different customers when conducting checks, with the company carrying out only soft credit checks and verification of names and addresses for all players. It was also found to be lacking in terms of customer interaction, with one customer having been allowed to deposit £110,000 over a 24-hour period. The company has voluntarily refunded the customer in question. As well as paying £1.4m towards research and treatment designed to address the risk of harmful gambling, it must pay £18,732 towards the Commission’s costs. In addition, Betit has had a number of additional conditions attached to its UK operating licence. It must have a licensed, qualified money laundering reporting officer, who must undertake annual referesher trading. All personal management licence (PML) holders must also undertake outsourced anti-money laundering training. Finally, its anti-money laundering and social responsibility policies, procedures and controls must be continuously reviewed, with external auditors employed to ensure that all remain up to date and fit for purpose. MT Secure Trading, a subsidiary of Gaming Innovation Group, operator of the sites guts.com and rizk.com sites, was also rapped for money laundering and social responsibility failures. In particular, it took deposits of £38,000 from one customer without investigating the source of funds, which were later discovered to be stolen. It has had the same conditions imposed on its operating licence as Betit, while £592,333 must be paid towards the research and treatment of gambling-related harm, and . It must also return £73,667 to a customer that it failed to identify as a high-risk gambler, and return £34,000 to victims of the player that stole money to fund their gambling. The Commission also identified weaknesses in Bestbet Limited’s anti-money laundering and social responsibility procedures and controls, although no specific customer examples were given. It was handed a financial penalty of £230,972, had enhanced anti-money laundering conditions attached to its licence, and had to pay £15,000 towards the Commission’s costs. The latest fines come as part of a wide-ranging and ongoing investigation the regulator has been conducting into the online casino industry. Last November it imposed penalty packages totalling more than  £14m in one month alone. It said today it has looked at the activities of more than 120 operators over the past 18 months, with 45 told to come up with a plan to raise standards, while five have handed in their licences. Richard Watson, executive director at the Gambling Commission, said: “We have been working hard to raise standards in the online industry to ensure that gambling is crime-free and that the one in five people in Britain who gamble online every month can do so safely. “But our work will not stop here. As a regulator, we will continue to set and enforce standards that the industry must comply with to protect consumers.” Gaming Innovation Group (GiG) owns both Betit and MT SecureTrade, and CEO Robin Reed has responded to the ruling, saying each company has “acknowledged previous weaknesses in its controls to meet social responsibility requirements early in the Gambling Commission process and immediately took steps to address the gaps in its procedures”. “It has been such transparency and cooperation, which we are pleased that the Gambling Commission has publicly acknowledged, and agility to implement improvements that allowed us to avert a sanction,” he said. “Commencing from the end of 2017, GiG has embarked on an ambitious journey to place player well-being, prevention of money laundering and sustainable business practices at the core of its operators. “In the last two years, we have invested heavily in automated technology such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning enabling early prevention, monitoring and other reporting tools. “We have also invested in people, building our compliance and player safety teams and ensuring that the necessary tools are available to them to assist in their duties of reducing the risk of business being used to further financial crime and detecting and interacting with players who may be vulnerable or at risk of problem gambling.”

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