On 10th October 2018, the Gambling Commission announced that it had agreed a financial payment in lieu of penalty with land- and online-based casino operator The Rank Group PLC t/a Grosvenor Casinos (“Rank”) £500,000 following an investigation into Rank’s failure to protect a customer with significant gambling problems. The customer in question was a longstanding, very high net value individual who lived overseas. Rank’s failure to adequately address the customer’s problems allowed the customer to lose in excess of £1 million in a single 24-hour period.

Details of the investigation are provided below.

The Commission’s findings

The Commission concluded that Rank breached three sections of the Social Responsibility Code (“SRC”), which forms part of the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice and mandatorily applies to all gambling licence holders:

  1. Provision of credit (SRC 3.7.2): in circumstances where remote gambling operators choose to offer credit to customers, such operators must set out to the customer the terms and conditions associated with that credit. Despite the fact that Rank’s policy is not to offer credit to digital customers, in this case, the company agreed to grant the customer a credit facility allowing him to draw down funds prior to the completion of banking transfers. Though Rank put arrangements in place to monitor credit and repayment, the arrangement was not formalised for a period of six weeks, during which time the customer’s online spending escalated dramatically.
  2. Self-exclusion (SRC 3.5.1): in 2016, the customer decided to self-exclude from Rank’s gambling operations (i.e., he informed Rank that he had decided to stop gambling for a minimum period of six months and Rank agreed to take reasonable steps to prevent him from gambling during that period). However, during this period of self-exclusion, a Rank general manager visited the customer at his home overseas as part of a “keep in contact” networking visit, following which the general manager requested that the customer be re-instated.
  3. Customer interaction (SRC 3.4.1): the Gambling Commission found that Rank failed to recognise signs of problematic gambling behaviour, including escalated spending and high speed of play, repeated requests for credit increases and bonuses, overt signs of frustration, and periods of self-exclusion. Richard Watson, Gambling Commission executive director, stated that the Commission “expect[s] all operators to protect any consumer who may be experiencing problems with their gambling, and operators shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that VIP customers don’t experience difficulties.” According to the Commission, Rank should have adopted a holistic approach towards identifying problematic behaviour, rather than focusing on assertions that the customer was “comfortable with his level of spend.”

In view of the foregoing infringements, Rank agreed to pay a settlement of £500,000 in lieu of a financial penalty. The settlement will go to GambleAware (a charity committed to minimising gambling-related harm) to pay for research into risk factors and traits associated with harmful gambling behaviour. Rank also agreed to provide an anonymised dataset to GambleAware for research purposes; terminated its relationship with the customer (making an agreed divestment); and has agreed to pay a further £5,000 towards the Commission’s investigative costs.

The Commission’s full report can be found here.

Conclusions

The Gambling Commission’s investigation into Rank offers further evidence of the Commission’s stringent enforcement policies and comes on the heels of a £1.15 million fine against Camelot in respect of weaknesses in its own control and governance measures.

It is worth noting, however, that the amount of the Rank settlement is relatively low in comparison with other recent Commission enforcement actions. In this case, the Commission exercised some moderation because Rank self-reported their failures to the Commission, exhibited open and transparent behaviour throughout the Commission’s investigation, and carried out thorough internal investigations of their own to identify and address failings and weaknesses. Nonetheless, gambling operators who suspect that their internal policies are not adequately protecting consumers exhibiting harmful gambling behaviour should be aware of the grace penalty risks arising if they do not adopt a proactive approach towards resolving these issues and engaging with the Commission going forward.