The GCF write to the Gambling Commission to raise the issue of delayed withdrawals

What are Harms markers and are they working?

The Mail Online reported last month that a William Hill employee called the police when a winning gambler requested payment for a large win from a tennis bet. The story can be viewed here and rather than re-cover the circumstances of the non-payment in the piece, the GCF want to look at the wider issues at large. What is going on with some of the big corporate bookmakers and their actions towards customers?

The GCF have spoken to the bettor involved in this story, who during the impasse was bemused and bewildered by the experience, and gave some further insight into the story. He has stated he visited another William Hill betting shop in a different part to the country and attempted to place a £500 bet on a horse and was told no by an abrupt member of staff. As always in these situations, the horse duly won, no doubt much to the amusement of the counter staff.  

The bettor was not a regular William Hill user, in fact he spends much of his time abroad which added further confusion to the actions of the company. The fact that 2 of the slips were paid out yet the third at time of writing remained unpaid for over 3 weeks would seemingly rule out any spurious money laundering checks. Let us not forget that it was only 5 months ago that the company was fined over £19 million for what was described as ‘social responsibility and anti-money-laundering failures’  

Thankfully after involving the his MP, William Hill paid out the bet after their ‘legal and regulatory checks had been cleared’. There was no detail on what these checks were or what was involved in cleared them, however the bettor got his money, but a ban from all shops going forward. 

 It’s important to take a step back and consider what has happened here within the scope of the new proposed regulations. The Gambling Commission wish to hand the power to a bookmaker (who is delaying paying winning bets and who they already fined £19 million) to perform credit checks and request open banking and or payslips to place a bet. I say ‘hand’ the power to, but there is evidence that William Hill is already performing credit checks. Indeed, according to a tweet from the Gambling Insight account, they have performed credit checks on self excluded gamblers. We have had sight of numerous other cases relating to William Hill and obstacles to payment.   

Any other regulator that was made aware of a customer being treated in this manner (and the Gambling Commission would be aware of this), would be looking at the case in their duty to defend the best interests of the consumer. Instead, it appears our regulator would rather hand over more powers to operators with a poor track record. As for William Hill, the bettor has requested a subject access report and has asked 18 questions about the incident, such as what the checks were and why the delay on paying winnings, and it will be fascinating to see what information is held on him. As we at the GCF continue to emphasise, the most valuable commodity now is information. Tese ill-thought-out ideas from the Gambling Commission hand more information to those who helped create the current position. 

With this in mind, we are writing the following letter to the Gambling Commission to request comment on enforcement actions of bookmakers abusing AML checks and imposing spurious delays on payments. Whilst the GC has issued advice that bookmakers should not delay withdrawals to carry out checks they could have already reasonably done, we at the GCF feel that bookmakers are not abiding by this advice and are instead citing regulatory checks under their terms and conditions with unspecific bullet points which bundles together AML and affordability.  

Whilst the GC do not consider these issues to be part of their remit, why is it they can punish bookmakers for breaking licence conditions relating to gambling harm but not those who abuse rules to avoid payment and collect data? Requesting personal data with the security and privacy concerns it incurs should be a last resort and not a first response.  

Letter to GC 

Dear Mr Rhodes, 

We are writing regarding concerns relating to gambling companies ignoring Gambling Commission guidance regarding account withdrawals, specifically where companies request information which they could reasonably have requested beforehand. 

No doubt your media monitoring would have bought to your attention the Mail Online story concerning the police being called in on a bettor who had been paid out on a winning betting slip, was collecting from another and being refused payment. The company in question was William Hill who cited ‘legal and regulatory’ issues as the reason to withhold payment. Following support from his MP and the GCF, he was paid out 23 days later with no explanation to the delay and the checks that were taking place. It is important to note he had already been partly paid. 

The GCF have had sight of numerous examples of withheld winnings for spurious reasons, not just from William Hill but several other companies. It is invariably the case that the companies ask for personal financial data. It has been reported anecdotally that 70-80% of people are unwilling to send this information. 

The GCF would therefore ask the GC for clarification of its guidance that checks such as these should not be carried out at withdrawal when there has been opportunity to do so before, and if this is the case what processes and levers are there to take action against companies that are breaching that guidance. We would also appreciate some data on how many times a company been found to have breached this guidance by the GC, and what action has been taken.  

Yours sincerely

The GCF

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