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Tough talk needed on gambling as bookmaker hit with £6M fine

A Christian advocacy group has called for “a frank and open conversation” on issues related to gambling after William Hill was fined £6.2m for what were described as ‘systemic failures’.

Chris Buttenshaw, senior policy officer at Christian Action Research & Education (CARE), described the fine as “a drop in the ocean” for the bookmaker and insisted that more must be done.

A Gambling Commission investigation revealed that between November 2014 and August 2016 the William Hill breached anti-money laundering and social responsibility regulations.

It also found that senior management failed to mitigate risks and to have sufficient staff to ensure that processes for adhering to the regulations were effective.

The commission said William Hill allowed 10 customers to deposit large sums of money linked to criminal offences, that saw gains of more than £1.2 million for the company.

“While it is encouraging that the Gambling Commission has taken action over serious breaches of social responsibility rules, the truth is that for a company of the size of William Hill – a mainstay of our high streets with a huge online presence – a £6.2 million fine is barely a drop in the ocean,” Mr Buttenshaw told The Universe.

“We need to have a frank and open conversation about improving protections to support those who have been negatively impacted by gambling,” he continued. “In particular, serious consideration must be given to moving from a voluntary approach to seeking contributions from the gambling industry to care for problem gamblers, to a compulsory levy.”

Mr Buttenshaw noted that recent polling by CARE shows the majority of the British public – 61 per cent – would support such a move.

The current settlement does not sufficiently protect problem gamblers, nor does it protect their loved ones or their communities.

“CARE looks forward to reading the recommendations of the Government’s Gambling Review and trust that the Government will swiftly implement necessary changes to help safeguard problem gamblers and protect those who are at risk of becoming addicted to gambling.”

According to the Gambling Commission, one customer was allowed to deposit £654,000 over nine months without any check on their income, which was around £30,000 per year at the time.

Another customer was identified by William Hill as having an ‘escalating gambling spend’, but was allowed to continue gambling after the bookmaker received an ‘assurance’ that they were ‘comfortable’ with their spending.

A third customer, who was also making around £30,000 each year, was allowed to deposit £541,000 over 14 months after a William Hill official assumed his income could be as high as £365,000.

This assumption, the Gambling Commission said, was based only on a ‘verbal conversation’ had with the customer, with no further questions asked. In reality, the customer was funding his habit by stealing from his employer, the commission said.

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Picture: File photo dated 16/1/2014 of a London branch of bookmaker William Hill. (John Stillwell/PA).