UK gambling firms paid a record £19.6m in penalties last year for failing to protect problem gamblers and stop money laundering.
More than a third of the total was made up by one £7.1m fine for online casino operator Daub Alderney, which runs a number of sites including Lucky Pants Bingo and Kitty Bingo. Paddy Power Betfair, which has been renamed Flutter Entertainment, received a £2.2m fine.
The Gambling Commission said it had found repeated examples of customers being allowed to gamble significant sums of money in short time frames, “way beyond their personal affordability and without any intervention from the operator”.
However, the total amount of fines levied is just 0.13 per cent of the industry’s £14.5bn of profits last year and 1.6 per cent of the amount that gambling-related harm is estimated to cost the UK annually in additional health service and criminal justice costs, as well as welfare claims.
The Treasury received £13m of the penalties, with the rest going to compensate consumers and others who have been affected by the the firms’ rule-breaking. The total was up from £18.4m last year and £1.7m the year before.
Studies have shown that gambling companies generate a majority of their profits from a relatively small proportion of gamblers, prompting campaigners to call for tougher rules to stop people from betting when they have a problem.
Consumers can register their details to bar themselves from particular types of gambling but there are ways round the system by, for example, changing minor details when signing up for online casinos, or switching to a different type of gambling such as a high street bookmaker.
The commission’s figures show that this system is frequently ineffective. Gambling operators recorded 1.6 million incidents where people had signed up to exclude themselves and 135,700 times when those people had been found to have been allowed to gamble anyway.
Figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws show that the commission received 1,797 complaints from individuals about self-exclusion between the start of 2018 and May 2019.
The commission’s enforcement report, published on Thursday, says more than 160 investigations into gambling firms’ conduct were carried out in 2018-19, resulting in a variety of sanctions.
It notes signs of progress and “pockets of developing good practice” but says much more needs to be done to ensure that gambling firms are committed to ensuring the welfare of their customers.
The Gambling Commission’s chief executive Neil McArthur said: “I want gambling consumers in Britain to be able to enjoy the fairest and safest gambling in the world and I want gambling operators to work with us to put customer enjoyment and safety at the top of their corporate agenda.
“As the report shows, we will be tough when we find operators bending the rules or failing to meet our expectations,” he said, adding that more preventative measures would also be taken to lessen the need for fines.
Adam Bradford of the Safer Online Gambling Group described the fines as "loose change" compared to the profits of Britain's gambling firms.
"Addicts are collateral damage for these companies; a point on the balance sheet. This is not a harm prevention report, its a smokescreen. There needs to be a quicker route to revoking licences where harm has been caused."
He said the Gambling Commission was "not fit for purpose".
"What is it doing to make regulations stronger, to push for extra enforcement powers?"
"There have been numerous examples of stolen money, dubious money going into online gambling accounts without any questions asked."
He called for much tougher prevention methods rather than a focus on fines levied after lives had been "turned upsiode down".
"These fines are just false economics to me," he said. "They are coming from profits of companies that are doing wrong."
This week, the NHS announced it will launch its first gambling clinic for children. The service aimed exclusively at those aged 13 to 25 comes in response to concerns that young people are being increasingly exposed to gambling advertising. It will open alongside the UK’s only dedicated gambling addiction clinic in London.
A further 14 NHS treatment centres are due to open across England this year.
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