The United Kingdom Gambling Commission has once again had to fine the 888 Holdings group for breaching its responsible gambling measures. Noticing that the online gambling operator had failed in multiple areas in 2020, the Commission had no choice but to issue a penalty of £9.4 million to the company. That ranks as the third highest fine ever handed out in the history of British gambling regulation, and it also calls into question the future for 888 Holdings within the UK market.
In an announcement published on March 1, 2022, by the Commission, it was noted that 888 would be required to pay the fine for both its failings in the area of social responsibility and money laundering. An official warning was handed out to the company as well, and it is to undergo extensive independent auditing as a result.
Yet it stands out as being the second time that 888 Holdings has been handed out a large penalty for failing its vulnerable customers. In 2017, a £7.8 million fine was dished out by the Commission to the operator, and as is the case on this occasion, 888 Holdings accepted liability.
The Failings of 888 Holdings
In the same report published by the Gambling Commission, the specific failures of the operator were listed for all to see. They include:
- Not managing to identify players at risk of harm due to the 888 policies dictating that financial checks should only take place after a customer has deposited £40,000.
- Not interacting with a customer who lost £37,000 in six weeks during the pandemic.
- Not considering the Commission’s formal advice regarding customer interaction.
- Giving a customer who identified as an NHS employee earning £1,400 each month a monthly deposit cap of £1,300.
- Majority of customer interactions existed solely as emails sent detailing responsible gambling tools and did not require a customer response.
- No evidence of the operator proactively placing restrictions on any accounts where social responsibility concerns were raised.
- Not ensuring that financial limits can be implemented across multiple accounts held by one customer.
Five instances of money laundering not being tackled by 888 were also uncovered, including the aforementioned capability of customers to deposit £40,000 before checks were carried out, and accepting verbal assurances from customers regarding their employment income. One customer was allowed to spend £65,835 in a five-month period without any source of funds checks taking place.
It didn’t take long for 888 Holdings to respond to the penalty, confirming that it had accepted the statement published by the Commission on its website. It also stated that the company has taken immediate and appropriate action in order to improve its internal policies and procedures.
The £7.8 million penalty that the company received in 2017 was a record fine in its own right at the time. An investigation into operations by the regulatory body found that a technical failure had allowed over 7,000 customers who had chosen to self-exclude still be able to access their accounts at the 888 bingo site. Because that issue went undetected for so long, those players were able to deposit more than £3.5 million into their accounts, too. Additionally, visible signs of problem gambling in various customers were not picked up on by 888 at that time.
The Future of 888 Holdings in the UK Gambling Market
The penalties handed out to online gambling operators by the Gambling Commission have been brought into question before, as they don’t seem to be having enough of an impact on the brands. Yet with this being another record fine, and the second of such imposed on the 888 Holdings operator, it would only be right to question exactly what kind of future the company has in the UK iGaming scene.
The Commission is capable of and has the power to completely remove the gambling licence of any company that is not adhering to the rules laid out within that licence. Could 888 Holdings be on the chopping block? Well, it is certainly a step closer to that outcome, without a doubt. Two huge fines within five years of each other doesn’t bode well for the company.
Speaking of this fine, the chief executive of the Commission stated,
“The circumstances of the last enforcement action may be different but both cases involve failing customers – and this is something that is not acceptable. Today’s fine is one of our largest to date”, he continued, “and all should be clear that if there is a repeat of the failures at 888 then we have to seriously consider the suitability of the operator to uphold the licensing objectives and keep gambling safe and crime-free”.
It doesn’t stand so well for the 888 company, considering it is also currently in the process of buying the UK assets of William Hill. That deal, which is costing £2.2 billion altogether, is due to complete in Q2 of this year. The William Hill high street stores that currently belong to Caesars Entertainment after it purchased the brand in 2021, will end up in the possession of the 888 brand, and so will all UK and European-facing online operations, as part of the deal.
Speaking on behalf of 888 Holdings, the chief executive of the brand, Itai Pazner, spoke of recognising the brand’s responsibility to make gambling a safer activity.
“Over recent years we have made significant investments in safer gambling, including more than doubling the size of our compliance team since 2019”,
“We will continue to work closely with the UKGC, our peers and other stakeholders to drive continuous improvement in the industry”,
Pazner finished off.
Indeed, 888 will need to be careful. While it has not been handed out the largest fine ever by the Gambling Commission – which was an £11.6 million fine imposed on Betway in April 2020, it stands to lose a lot more than just money if the Commission takes away its official licence.