British online betting company 888 fined $10 million for failing to protect customers

(Reuters) - British online betting company 888 Holdings was fined a record 7.8 million pounds ($10 million) on Thursday for failing to protect vulnerable customers from addictive gambling.

Britain’s Gambling Commission said that a technical glitch in 888’s system allowed more than 7,000 customers between October 2015 and September 2016 to keep accessing one of 888’s platforms, and deposit 3.5 million pounds, even though they had chosen to be excluded from it.

The issue went undetected for a “prolonged period of time” during which those customers were able to gamble 50.6 million pounds in total, using deposits and recycled winnings, the commission said.

Its fine of 7.8 million pounds was the highest it has ever handed out to a company.

888 operates two separate technological platforms: one for casino, poker and sport and a separate one for bingo. However, the glitch meant people who excluded themselves from the casino, poker and sport platform still had access to these accounts on their bingo platform.

In addition, the commission said that 888 also failed to recognise “visible signs of problem gambling behaviour displayed by an individual customer, which was so significant that it resulted in criminal activity”.

The commission said that the particular individual customer staked over 1.3 million pounds -- 55,000 pounds stolen from an employer -- and gambled over three to four hours a day over a 13-month period.

The fine of 7.8 million pounds includes repayment of the 3.5 million pounds of deposits made by the 7,000 customers affected and compensation of 62,000 pounds to the employer from whom money was stolen.

888 agreed to pay a further 4.25 million pounds to a socially responsible cause to invest in measures to tackle gambling-related harm.

Sarah Harrison, chief executive at the Gambling Commission said, “safeguarding consumers is not optional” and said the fine will ensure that “lessons are learnt”.

888 said in a statement that it accepted the conclusion of the review.

Gambling companies in the UK made over 13 billion pound between October 2015 and September 2016, according to data from the commission.

Charities have warned that fixed-odds betting machines are highly addictive and can enable gamblers to lose hundreds of pounds in less than a minute.

Britain’s ministry for culture, media and sports, which regulates the gambling industry, launched a consultation last October into the maximum wagers that should be allowed on gambling machines, including those known as fixed-odds betting terminals.

(Corrects headline to say $10 million not $1 million)

($1 = 0.7772 pounds)

Reporting by Rahul B in Bengaluru; Editing by Susan Fenton