It would be a staggering development if multi-million pound firms like Ladbrokes and Coral were to vanish from the UK gambling market.
But that could be the reality if their parent company, Entain, have to give up their operating licence.
That unlikely scenario has taken a step closer after Entain were fined a mammoth £17 million by the UK Gambling Commission for a variety of responsible gaming failures – and warned that the removal of their licence was ‘a very real possibility.’
While other betting firms have had their licences suspended or revoked entirely before, none have been on the scale of Entain – this would be a seismic development for the industry.
It’s both Entain’s high street and online brands that have copped the thick end of the Commission’s ire.
The failings have been outlined in a posting on the regulator’s website, which confirms that Entain’s online division – LC International Ltd – has been fined £14 million for failing to adhere to safer gambling best practices.
Meanwhile Ladbrokes, who still run more than 2,700 betting shops on the UK high street, have been hit with a £3 million fine for similar breaches.
One customer, who was blocked from betting with Coral over their problematic spending, was able to deposit £30,000 with another Entain brand instead.
Another deposited a mammoth £742,000 into their account in little over a year, with no procedure triggered that would check whether they could afford such an astronomical sum.
A third punter wagered more than £230,000 on gambling in long sessions played in the middle of the night – they were subject to just one routine chat interaction.
A number of other incidents were cited by the Commission as evidence that Entain’s brands are simply failing to uphold the need for safe, sensible and transparent gambling.
The chief executive of Entain, Andrew Rhodes, issued a dire warning to Entain over their future conduct. “This is the second time this operator has fallen foul of rules in place to make gambling safer and crime free,” he said. “There were completely unacceptable anti-money laundering and safer gambling failures. Operators are reminded they must never place commercial considerations over compliance.
“They should be aware that we will be monitoring them very carefully, and further serious breaches will make the removal of their licence to operate a very real possibility.”
The £17 million sum is the highest fine ever issued by the Commission, and it’s the second time in three years that Entain have copped a big one – they were forced to pay £5.9 million for a catalogue of similar failings in 2019.
They agreed to pay the fine to gambling charities after meeting with the Commission to discuss their punishment, which could have led to legal action had they not admitted to the breaches. Entain’s representatives admitted that their practices ‘….were not in line with the evolving regulatory expectations of the commission in respect to aspects of social responsibility and anti-money laundering safeguards.’
The operator will now be forced to implement an improvement plan, with the aim to tighten their measures when it comes to identifying potentially problem gamblers and preventing money laundering activity.
If they don’t accomplish that, we could be waving goodbye to one of the biggest betting operators on UK soil.
Crossed Paths and Locked Horns
All of this is playing out against the backdrop of the forever delayed governmental white paper that is expected to revamp the UK gambling sector.
That probably won’t be revealed until the new prime minister is confirmed in the coming weeks, and the overarching theme is likely to be one of stricter regulation and reform.
The possibility that the Gambling Commission could be replaced, or supplemented by an independent industry ombudsman, has been mooted, and so this handling of Entain – which has made national news headlines – could be seen as their way of appearing relevant and powerful at such a critical time.
On the other hand, the regulator has been considered by some to be something of a soft touch in the past, so perhaps operators should get used to such stark fines and sanctions if they continue to break the rules.
Considering the scale of Entain’s operations in the UK, this £17 million fine is a statement from the Gambling Commission. White paper or not, ill-equipped betting brands are on borrowed time if they don’t buck up their ideas.