Stolen Cash, Lies, and Money Laundering: Why the UKGC Is Dishing Out Fines

  • Gambling Commission fines Unibet £1.6m
  • Operators are failing in their anti-money laundering checks
  • Ongoing investigation results in fines on multiple operators 
Judge's gavel with dice and cards
UK operators are paying millions of dollars in fines after failing anti-money laundering checks.

Recent crackdowns

The United Kingdom is a powerful player on the European gambling scene. That’s not to say that there aren’t trials and tribulations for operators—the drastic cut in fixed-odds betting terminals is just one in a line—but there are still plenty of reasons that this is a winning market.

From sponsorship opportunities with some of the world’s top athletes and sports teams to a regulatory framework that allows players to play from across the whole of Europe, the market is worth around £5bn ($6.3bn) and it continues to grow.

The United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC), which regulates gambling, has become much more active in recent years. In line with the government’s commitment to keep a close eye on the industry and promote safe and responsible gambling, the Commission has begun to flex its muscles over the last few years, especially when it comes to fines.

The latest operator to fall foul of such strict rules is Platinum Gaming, which was hit this week with a £1.6m ($2m) fine for allowing a convicted fraudster to access its facilities.

Fraudulent bets missed

There are strict rules for operators that include a requirement to make sure the money being traded is legal and the person making the bet can afford the sum.

After a tip-off, the Commission began investigating Platinum Gaming, the parent company of Unibet, and found that an unnamed customer was able to spend £629,420 ($798,000) without asking how they had acquired such a large sum. Further investigations revealed that the customer was a convicted fraudster and that the money was stolen.

With no evidence that the operator had followed the protocol of asking to see a proof of income, a fine was to be expected, especially since the Commission remarked that the large amounts should have made Unibet “suspicious.”

The company has been made to return the £629,420 to the fraudster’s victims and pay a further £990,200 ($1.25m) instead of a financial penalty.

Stolen money

Last week Gibraltar-registered Gamesys fell afoul of a similar investigation that found three players had been gambling with stolen money. With little communication between the company and the players recorded, the UKGC ruled that anti-money laundering checks were insufficient.

As part of a penalty package, the company will forfeit the £460,472 ($583,650) in stolen funds and pay a penalty of £690,000 ($874,580).

Richard Watson, executive director at the UKGC, said: “It is vital that operators understand their customers, track their online gambling and step in quickly. Gamesys’ approach resulted in a variety of failings and saw stolen money flowing through the business with customers being put at risk of gambling-related harm.”

Easily caught

These anti-money laundering checks while not new are certainly becoming standardized, meaning that operators that fail to follow procedures are easily caught. The UKGC slapped a handful of operators for such checks last month.

Four casinos—InTouch Games Limited, Betit Operations Limited, MT Secure Trade, and BestBet—were ordered to pay sums totaling £4.5m ($5.7m) after they failed such checks and were unable to keep customers from harm.

At the time, Watson 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.”

“We expect operators to know their customers and to ask the right questions to make sure they meet their anti-money laundering and social responsibility obligations.”

However, they did qualify their ruling with good news about Gamesys, stating that the operator had taken proactive measures and made improvements. It was also noted that the company was both cooperative and transparent throughout the investigation.

Operator responsibilities

Many operators are already committed to responsible gambling in public, which makes these fines all the more inexcusable. Unibet is part of the Kindred Group, which partnered with BetBuddy and City University in 2018 to publish a paper on artificial intelligence and anti-fraud measures.

These fines will not only be embarrassing to large European players who should know better but will also serve as a reminder that, despite the possibilities of the UK gambling industry, the regulator is always watching.

Indeed, with an ongoing investigation since 2017, over 120 gambling operators have been under scrutiny so far with large sanctions part of the outcome. As a demonstration of its power, in November last year the commission levied fines on three operators totaling almost £14m ($17.75m).

With sanctions and large fines at its disposition, the UKGC means business and operators need to take their anti-money laundering concerns seriously if they want to avoid further action.