William Hill fined £19.2m for failures that let customer gamble £23,000 in minutes without checks

Three gambling businesses owned by William Hill have been hit with a record fine of £19.2 million for “widespread and alarming” social responsibility and anti-money laundering failures.

One customer was allowed to open a new account and spend £23,000 in 20 minutes, while another spent £18,000 in 24 hours – both without any checks.

Anti-money laundering (AML) failures included allowing customers to deposit large amounts without conducting appropriate checks. One customer was able to spend and lose £70,134 in a month, another to lose £38,000 in five weeks and another lost £36,000 in four days.

The penalty for the failures is the largest in the Gambling Commission's history.

WHG (International) Limited, which runs williamhill.com, will pay £12.5 million; Mr Green Limited, which runs mrgreen.com, will pay £3.7 million; and William Hill Organisation Limited, which operates 1,344 gambling premises across Britain, will pay £3 million.

Gambling Commission chief executive Andrew Rhodes said the failings identified were so alarming that a license suspension was considered.

“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,” Mr Rhodes said.

Last October, gambling company 888 bought William Hill’s high street stores in a deal with around £150 million. In the summer, 888 completed a nearly £2 billion deal for William Hill’s international assets, which included its 1,400 betting shops across the UK.

A spokesman for 888, which owns William Hill, said the record settlement relates to 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 spokesman said.

“The entire group shares the Gambling Commission'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.”

Adam Bradford, a gambling campaigner, who helped pay off his father’s £500,000 gambling debts after he was jailed for fraud, said the failings of the bookmaker were “disappointing.”

“Vulnerable customers should be the top priority for betting firms and this case highlights the need for the government’s Gambling Act review to be released immediately,” Mr Bradfors said.

“For companies to be able to react better and to protect the hundreds of thousands of addicts, like my dad, this legislation and framework could not come soon enough. William Hill did act quickly in implementing software, bringing in experts to help them monitor customers’ play and this is exactly what operators now need to be doing across the board.”

The Gambling Commission said all £19.2 million would be directed towards “socially responsible purposes” as part of a regulatory settlement.

The previous largest case was a £17 million action taken against Entain in August last year.

The William Hill settlement comes a week after the commission fined two operators owned by Kindred Group a combined £7.2 million and is the largest enforcement case taken on by the regulator.

Mr Rhodes said: “In the last 15 months we have taken unprecedented action against gambling operators, but we are now starting to see signs of improvement.

“There are indications that the industry is doing more to make gambling safer and reducing the possibility of criminal funds entering their businesses.”