Betting Site William Hill to Pay £19.2m Regulatory Settlement to the Gambling Commission
In the latest announcement by the UK Gambling Commission, it has been revealed that their enquiry into popular UK betting site William Hill’s operations has been completed. Due to the findings of the investigation, the bookmaker has held discussions with the regulatory body and has agreed to settle and make a voluntary payment of £19.2m. This is a new record in the United Kingdom, with the previous record holder, Entain Group (the owner of betting sites Ladbrokes and Coral) having settled with the UK Gambling Commission for £17m in 2022 after a similar investigation.
All licenced UK betting sites are bound to meet certain minimum standards of social responsibility, promotion of safer gambling, and anti-money-laundering procedures. This is strictly monitored and enforced by the UK Gambling Commission, which has the power to investigate companies and their current and historic policies, processes, and procedures. The Commission has several disposal options available, including settlements, warnings, regulatory fines, and even the suspension or revocation of betting licences. The last step is not utilised very often, however sometimes betting sites whose licences have been suspended decide to surrender them and leave the UK betting market before the Commission has had the chance to make its final move.
In the current situation with William Hill, it is understood that the failings which the Commission investigated took place before the betting site was acquired by global betting group 888. The Commission termed William Hill’s failings “alarming” and “widespread”, however the bookmaker’s parent company 888 responded:
“The settlement relates to the period when William Hill was under the previous ownership and management. After William Hill was acquired, the company quickly addressed the identified issues with the implementation of a rigorous action plan. The entire Group shares the GC’s commitment to improve compliance standards across the industry and we will continue to work collaboratively with the regulator and other stakeholders to achieve this.”
It is important to remember that the rules and regulations when it comes to UK betting and gambling can sometimes be vague and are not exactly set in stone. They resemble recommendations and guidance however it is the responsibility of all UK betting sites to understand, interpret, and implement these in order to ensure safe and responsible gambling and the prevention of criminality. This is the reason why large companies like Entain and 888 are often found to have breached these regulations through one or more of its betting sites.
The investigations are also difficult and are carried out on a case-by-case basis by the Commission which has to provide concrete examples of a bookmaker’s failings before imposing a fine. An example provided in the William Hill situation was the lack of responsible gambling checks and controls, with a particular situation being that a customer was allowed to spend £23,000 mere 20 minutes after opening their account. No responsible gambling checks were done in that situation. In another example, it was found that 331 bettors had used the gambling self-exclusion tool, however were still able to make bets using betting site Mr Green. These are only two of the various issues uncovered during the investigation of historic failings. It is important to note that all these issues have now been fixed and William Hill has significantly improved its processes and procedures since being acquired by 888.
The hefty payment of £19.2m will be spread across three of the company’s businesses and betting sites. WHG (International) Limited will owe £12.5m, betting site Mr Green will be responsible for £3.7m, and William Hill Organisation Limited will cover £3m. In addition to the monetary settlement, the UK Gambling Commissions has announced that it has given serious consideration to suspending the bookmaker’s licence. Its Chief Executive Andrew Rhodes stated:
“When we launched this investigation, the failings we uncovered were so widespread and alarming, serious consideration was given to licence suspension. However, because the operator immediately recognised their failings and worked with us to swiftly implement improvements, we instead opted for the largest enforcement payment in our history.”
While it is important to remember that the Gambling Commission does make these sort of announcements partly to remind betting sites that it COULD suspend licences if needs be (after all, a similar statement was made after the Entain enquiry last year), the Commission has actually been known to suspend licences in recent times, especially with the tightening of gambling rules and regulations across Europe. For example, in July 2022, the Commission suspended the licence of betting site Bet-at-home as it was concerned that “activities may have been carried out contrary to the Gambling Act 2005”.
With companies like William Hill and Entain however, which run some of the biggest and most popular betting sites in the UK and globally, a licence suspension may turn out to be counter-productive. These bookmakers usually go an extra mile to ensure they comply with regulation, and any enquiry by the Gambling Commission is fully supported and cooperated with. Closing them down would mean hundreds of millions disappearing from the UK economy, and the loss of thousands of jobs. It is expected that the long-overdue White Paper on UK gambling will help operators ensure that they comply with all regulations, as the Paper is supposed to modernise, simplify, and improve the rules, regulations, and laws surrounding the industry.