An online gambling firm has closed after regulators found serious failings around player protection and anti-money laundering processes.
The Gambling Commission launched an investigation into PT Entertainment Services (PTES) after a 25-year-old customer took his own life having lost more than £30,000 through its sites www.winner.co.uk and titanbet.co.uk.
Publishing its findings on Wednesday, the regulator found PTES failed to carry out any “responsible gambling” interactions with the customer, despite being aware that several of his debit card transactions had been declined.
Although PTES has ceased trading we decided to complete our investigation and publish our findings, as the lessons from this tragic case must be learned by all operators.Neil McArthur, Gambling Commission chief executive
The company also provided him with VIP status without verifying he could afford to spend the amounts of money he was playing with.
The commission was contacted by the customer’s family in November 2018 following his death April 2017.
Its inquiry found that between December 26 2016 and April 12 2017 – when the customer’s “Winner” account was suspended due to his death – he had a net loss of £34,068.
On December 29 2016, an internal email was sent stating that the customer had lost £22,000 and that PTES did not know his occupation.
The commission said PTES gave “no consideration” to problem gambling checks and instead emailed him an invite to take part in a promotion to win more than £3.7 million.
It also found that he lost £119,395 between April 1 and 5 2017 – with PTES failing to verify whether he could afford to play, the commission said.
PTES could have faced a fine of at least £3.5 million, but was not required to pay as the company surrendered its operating licence during the investigation, the commission added.
However, Playtech, its parent company, pledged to donate £5 million to mental health and gambling-related harm charities over the next five years as part of its strategy to promote better online health.
Are you worried about your or a loved one's gambling? Itâs really important to talk about it. There are a number of charities here to help, as well as NHS treatment and support centres in London and Leeds.— Gambling Commission (@GamRegGB) May 23, 2020
Leeds: https://t.co/ATWNG0BVnn pic.twitter.com/nCFivYZIBS
PTES also donated £619,395 to charity.
In a statement, Playtech said the decision to close its Titan and Winner brands was taken before it was notified of the investigation, while PTES’s licence was already due to expire in October 2019.
Neil McArthur, the commission’s chief executive, said: “This is a tragic case which came to light after I was contacted by the family of the young man who very sadly took his own life.
“Although PTES has ceased trading we decided to complete our investigation and publish our findings, as the lessons from this tragic case must be learned by all operators.
“Our investigations into the role played by key individuals at PTES are continuing. As such, it would be inappropriate to say more about the specific case at this time.”
Mr McArthur said the case highlights why the management of so-called high value customers “has to change”.
He added: “Operators must do everything in their power to interact with customers responsibly.
“We will shortly be opening a consultation to make permanent changes to the way operators recruit and incentivise high value customers.”
A Playtech spokesman said: “Regarding the Gambling Commission’s investigation, we take full responsibility for the regulatory breaches identified, and PT Entertainment Services’ actions fell significantly short of the high standards we set ourselves as a group.
“The failings occurred in a business that is now closed.”
The spokesman said the company had since “invested significantly” to ensure such breaches do not occur again.
The commission said its investigation identified “serious systemic failings” in the way PTES managed its social responsibility and anti-money laundering processes.
PTES was found to have breached the Gambling Commission’s Social Responsibility Code between May 2015 and September 2017, in that there was a “clear lack” of policy and training given to staff on how to manage so-called VIP relationships and minimise harm.
It had also failed to put in place a formal risk assessment in relation to money laundering and terrorist financing between October 2016 and September 2017.