Gambling Addict Lost £119k in Five Days Before Taking Own Life

  • UKGC found serious failings in PTES's anti-money laundering, social responsibility processes
  • Issues discovered during 18-month-long investigation following Chris Bruney's suicide
  • Customer received free bets and cash bonuses from VIP manager with no income checks
  • Winner, a subsidiary of Playtech, surrendered operating license during investigation
  • Commission estimates company would be due fines of £3.5m for said breaches
gambler playing online slots
A UKGC investigation shows that gambling addict Chris Bruney lost £119,000 in just five days prior to taking his own life. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

UKGC releases investigation results

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has found “systemic failings” in the anti-money laundering and social responsibility processes of gambling operator PT Entertainment Services (PTES). The findings resulted from an 18-month-long investigation following the death of a 25-year-old gambler from Sheffield.

offered free bets and cash bonuses […] despite carrying out no proof of income checks

In the five days before he took his own life in April 2017, Chris Bruney lost a total of £119,000 ($146,314) gambling online at the PTES website winner.co.uk. The electrician was offered free bets and cash bonuses by a VIP manager of the site, despite carrying out no proof of income checks.

During the investigation, Winner, a subsidiary of parent company Playtech, surrendered its operating license.

Customer lured with gifts, free promos

The UKGC was asked to carry out the investigation after being alerted by Bruney’s family. The 25-year-old had opened an account with Winner on Boxing Day 2016. After having a number of transactions declined, he was eventually able to deposit £18,700 over two days.

On December 28, a VIP manager offered Bruney a free Apple watch. He replied: “I find it really welcoming you getting me this gift, none of the other sites I use have done this for me considering I wager much more with them.”

While knowing that Bruney was losing more money at other sites and having no information on his income, PTES continued to offer him promotional emails for jackpots and invited him to spend more money in exchange for free promotions.

Winner delivered another £500 ($614) bonus to his account just a few hours after his death

In the five days leading up to his death, from April 1 to April 5, 2017, Bruney lost £119,395 ($22,992) and earned £2,160 (£2,655) in bonuses. Winner delivered another £500 ($614) bonus to his account just a few hours after his death.

Daily Mail reported that in Bruney’s suicide note to his family and partner, he admitted that “it was the gambling” and that “he [sic] couldn’t go through it any more.”

Operator found guilty of systemic failings

The UKGC found that PT Entertainment Services (PTES), trading as winner.co.uk, had systemic failures in player protection. While the company had carried out an assessment of its customer, there was no formal risk assessment in place. This meant that it did not operate procedures and controls to prevent money laundering and terrorism.

PTES was also found to have no specific social responsibility provisions for VIP customers. Help would only be offered to those playing for between two and six months, leaving players who gambled for shorter periods vulnerable.

Commission now unable to levy hefty fine

In its report, the UKGC estimated that Winner would be due fines of around £3.5m ($4.29m) for its money laundering and social responsibility failings. However, owing to the fact that the online gambling site has since surrendered its operating license, the commission is now unable to impose further fines.

As a regulatory settlement, Winner has donated £619,395 ($761,567) to charity in support of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms. Parent company Playtech has pledged to donate £5m ($6.15m) to mental health and gambling-related harm charities over the next five years.

Bruley’s mother believes that such efforts are not enough. In a comment given to Daily Mail, she said:

I believe Winner and the other companies that Chris gambled with killed my son.”

She feels that the family has been denied justice for Bruney, adding: “We are heartbroken and we have been let down.”

MP Carolyn Harris, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary committee for gambling harm, believes Bruney was “groomed to gamble more until he felt he could not live any more.” She described Playtech’s “measly fine” for its role in the gambler’s death as “shameful”.