Online gambling firm 888 has been ordered to pay of over £7.8m for not helping vulnerable customers to limit the damage of their gambling addictions.
The Gambling Commission on Thursday said that, due to a technical failure in 888’s systems, over 7,000 customers who had chosen to self-exclude from their casino, poker or sports betting platform were still granted access their accounts on 888’s bingo platform.
Self-exclusion is a facility offered by gambling sites for people who have decided that they wish to stop gambling – in some cases because they fear they have become addicted – for at least six months and wish to be supported in their decision to quit.
The commission said that in 888’s case, the issue went undetected for “a prolonged period of time” which meant that customers were able to deposit a cumulative total of £3.5m into their accounts, and then continue to gamble, for over 13 months.
888 did have a self-exclusion procedures in place, but their system was “not robust enough and failed to protect potentially vulnerable customers”, the commission said.
“Safeguarding consumers is not optional. This penalty package of just under £8m reflects the seriousness of 888’s failings to protect vulnerable customers,” said Sarah Harrison, chief executive of the commission.
In addition to the overarching charges, the commission also said that 888 had failed to recognise “visible signs of problem gambling behaviour displayed by an individual customer, which was so significant that it resulted in criminal activity”.
In that particular case, the customer staked over £1.3m, including £55,000 stolen from an employer.
Over more than a year, the customer placed a significant number of bets and gambled, on average, three to four hours a day.
“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 said.
"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,” Ms Harrison said.
The £7.8m sum includes repayment of the £3.5m of deposits made by those customer who had chosen to self-excluded and it also includes compensation of £62,000 to the employer from whom money was stolen in that one particular case.
The commission said that a further £4.25m would be paid to a socially responsible cause with the idea that it helps finance measures to clamp down on gambling-related harm.
For “future assurance”, the commission said that it had also ordered an independent audit of 888’s processes relating to customer protection.
888, in a statement, said that it fully cooperated with the commission throughout this process.
It said that it “regrets the historic failings highlighted by the review and accepts the conclusion of the review”.
It also listed a number of changes and improvements that have been put in place to prevent similar occurrences in future.
“The review process has pushed 888 to enhance its responsible gambling technology and policies and leaves it well placed to continue to succeed in an environment where it will engage with customers in a way that those customers and regulators will demand going forward,” the company said.