888 Slapped With Record £7.8 Million in Penalties by UKGC
The thing about industry regulations is that you have to abide by them and if you don’t, even if it is unintentionally, you are going to have to pay the price. Such is the situation that online gambling giant 888 Holdings finds itself in, as it has found itself on the receiving end of a record-setting £7.8 million in penalties imposed by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) for completely dropping the ball in its problem gambling prevention measures.
The first area in which 888 failed was in how it handled self-excluded customers. On 888, like with any responsible operator (or one that is attempting to be responsible, even if it screws up), players can let the site know that they want to self-exclude, or impose a self-ban, in order to stop themselves from gambling money they can’t afford to lose.
888, as the UKGC explained in its public statement, has two separate online gambling platforms: one for poker, casino, and sports betting, and one for bingo. When a customer elects to self-exclude from one platform, the request gets communicated to the other so that they are excluded from both.
Unfortunately, something fell apart somewhere along the way and customers who self-excluded on the poker/casino/sports betting platform were still able to create accounts or access their active accounts on the bingo platform. Between October 2015 and September 2016, a total of 7,010 players who had opted to self-exclude were able to deposit £3.5 million on the bingo platform.
They gambled a total of £50.6 million on bingo, using both deposits and winnings.
888 reported the violation to the UKGC on February 28th, 2017, so at least the company discovered it and came clean, but the UKGC is understandably upset, saying, “We are especially concerned that this failure occurred for such an extended period of time, and is likely to have had a significant impact on the self-excluded customers as they were able to continue to deposit funds into, and play on, their 888 accounts.”
The other major violation by 888 was its failure to do anything at all about a customer with a significant gambling problem. This player bet £1.3 million for just over a year, between September 2014 and October 2015. That’s a colossal sum in and of itself, but there are certainly high rollers who do that sort of thing. It still should have at least raised some internal flags, though, that should have prompted 888 to look into this player some more. The company didn’t.
If it did, it would have seen that the customer averaged three to four hours of gambling per day, placing over – wait for it – 850,000 bets. On top of that, the customer stole £55,000 from their employer to fund this year-long gambling binge. That crime got the customer 16 months in prison.
“The duration and extent of the gambling raises serious concerns about 888’s lack of interaction with the customer,” said the UKGC. “The frequency and duration of the customer’s gambling would have had a significant impact on their everyday life.”
And now for the penalty phase of this article. 888 is required to reimburse the problem gambler’s employer (including money the site made from the gambling), reimburse the self-excluded players who were still able to play on the bingo platform, and pay £4.25 million to a “socially responsible cause to invest in measures to tackle gambling-related harm.”
Here is the complete rundown of the penalties:
a) compensation to the customer’s employer of £62,023 which constitutes 888’s net financial gain resulted from its failings in the customer’s case.
b) 888 will return to customers the £3.5million deposited during the period in which their selfexclusion was not properly affected across all of 888’s platforms. This will be returned to customers either by way of prior customer withdrawal or by way of refund.
c) a payment in lieu of a financial penalty of £4,250,000, which the Commission would otherwise impose for breach of a licence condition in accordance with our Statement of principles for determining financial penalties, consisting of: i. £4,000,000 in relation to the self-exclusion issue ii. £250,000 in connection with the issues identified in the customer interaction case.
d) agreement to undertake an external audit on terms to be agreed with us in relation to its self-exclusion processes with the outcome of the audit to be reported to the Board of 888’s holding company, 888 Holdings plc (888 Holdings).
e) agreement to the publication of this statement outlining the failings by 888 and the lessons to be learned by the wider industry.
f) payment of our investigative costs in relation to this matter in the sum of £12,000.
“Safeguarding consumers is not optional. This penalty package of just under £8 million reflects the seriousness of 888’s failings to protect vulnerable customers,” said UKGC chief executive Sarah Harrison in a separate statement.
“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 learnt.”
In its own statement, 888 accepted the Commission’s conclusion and penalties, saying that the failings were unintentional, but obviously serious. It laid out a number of improvements it intends to make, including “expanding and enhancing” 888’s problem gambling algorithms, adjusting its systems so that reviews of potential problem gamblers are triggered earlier, fixing the links between accounts on multiple platforms, and improving verification of the sources of customers deposits.
“888 is absolutely committed to a proactive policy of corporate and social responsibility that reflects the high professional and ethical standards we set for ourselves across the business,” the company said. “Conducting business responsibly is fundamental to the future success of 888 and we understand that a responsible approach is both the correct way to do business and one that enhances credibility with all stakeholders, thereby supporting 888’s development. We will continue to focus on improvement in the area of responsible gaming to ensure we offer the most enjoyable and safest customer experience possible.”