UK Gambling Commission investigating 17 online casinos over money laundering and customer protection failings

  • Gambling Commission warns that gaming licences may be reviewed for five operators
  • Immediate action ordered on money laundering and player protection failings
  • Online casinos not named, but further evidence of strong action by UKGC

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has announced it is investigating 17 online casinos and may even review the gambling license of five operators after a review identified failings in the industry’s approach to stamping out money laundering and how it protects players from harm.

Sarah Harrison of the UK Gambling Commission, which has announced a probe into 17 online casino operators over money laundering and responsible gambling concerns.
Sarah Harrison of the UK Gambling Commission, which has announced a probe into 17 online casino operators over money laundering and responsible gambling concerns.

None of the 17 operators, or the five which may face a licence review, have been named publicly.

But the UKGC suggested it was currently minded to “exercise its regulatory powers” – suggesting enforcement action in some form was likely.

The announcement was made today (Friday) in which the UKGC said it had written to all online casino operators with a UK license asking them to review all of their anti-money laundering (AML) and social responsibility procedures and take action straight away.

The UKGC had carried out a wide-ranging review of operators’ AML and customer protection procedures, describing the “serious nature” of its findings which has prompted today’s statement.

Sarah Harrison, Gambling Commission chief executive, said: “It is vital that the gambling industry takes its duty to protect consumers and keep crime out of gambling seriously.

“The Gambling Commission’s new strategy sets out our vision for a fairer and safer gambling market. The action we are taking to examine online casino operators’ compliance with money laundering and customer interaction requirements is just one example of how we will be relentless in turning that vision into reality.”

Tightening up

The UKGC stating that five operators may be subject to a review of their license has raised the prospect of a license actually being taken away – meaning the operator would no longer be able to serve UK-based players, not to mention being a hefty blow to their reputation generally.

The announcement follows a tightening of regulatory screw by the UKGC in 2017.

The Gambling Commission in November announced its three-year plan to make gambling fairer and safer for players.

That followed several headline-grabbing penalties for operators which were deemed to be breaching their licensing conditions, as well as a joint investigation with the Competition and Markets Authority into bonus and free bet offers which it deemed frequently contained unfair terms and conditions.

At the start of 2018, it appears the UKGC is pressing on with its agenda of trying to build confidence in online gambling in the UK, which surveys showed had suffered from an image problem among players.

Online gambling the focus

Harrison said that the online gambling industry was a particular area of focus currently: “As the online sector continues to grow, and now accounts for a third of the British gambling market, it is right that we maintain a sharp focus on online gambling.

“That is why in addition to our work on compliance among online casino operators, we have also been conducting a wider ranging review of online gambling looking at how the market has evolved and to identify where further action can be taken to make gambling fairer and safer for consumers.”

All online casinos in the the UK have to follow a code of practice which covers everything from the technical standards their games must comply with, to how their services are marketed.

That code also includes measures to stamp out criminal activity, such as money laundering, as well as ways to protect players from harm.

The letter sent to all online casino operators said that measures action needed to happen right now.

More on the letter

The letter reminds operators of their responsibilities on money laundering and the financing of terror.

It said there was not enough reporting of suspicious activity to the National Crime Agency or relevant Financial Intelligence Unit and that some staff didn’t have the appropriate AML training.

Online casinos’ commitment to protecting players was also under the spotlight, where the review found failings, according to the letter. It said: “We reviewed a large number of customer accounts during the assessments and identified potential signs of problem gambling based on consumers’ gambling pattern and spend. In many cases
however this behaviour did not trigger a customer interaction.”

It said online casinos needed to sharpen up when it came to scrutinising transactions, identifying customer behaviours and improving interactions if problem behaviours were found.

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