Daily Mail

William Hill owner facing record penalty

- By Leah Montebello

WILLIAM Hill owner 888 is bracing itself for the biggest fine ever imposed by Britain’s gambling watchdog in a fresh setback for the company.

It has set aside £15m to cover penalties stemming from an investigat­ion by regulators into its ‘social responsibi­lity and anti-money laundering obligation­s’. But industry sources told the Mail the figure could be even higher, topping the Gambling Commission’s biggest to date, the £ 17m penalty paid by Paddy Power owner Flutter last year.

One said it could be

‘north of £20m’. Such a penalty would be major blow to 888, which is set for relegation from the FTSE 250 this month having seen its share price crash 85pc since September 2021.

888 bought William Hill from US-based Caesars Entertainm­ent last summer in a £2bn deal. Around £250m was knocked off the price, which 888 said reflected ‘the change in the macro- economic and regulatory environmen­t’ and ‘compliance factors impacting the William Hill business’, including the probe.

The commission declined to comment on a potential 888 fine but the Mail understand­s that a formal announceme­nt is imminent.

Richard Williams, gambling and regulatory partner at Keystone Law, said: ‘ It doesn’t look great that companies aren’t learning from mistakes, even if alleged failings are historic and relate to failings that took place when the operator did not own the entity.’

888, which owns online casino, poker and sports betting sites as well as more than 1,000 William Hill shops, is already grappling with other regulatory issues.

Last month, its boss made a shock exit after it launched an investigat­ion into suspected money laundering on VIP customer accounts in the Middle East.

Chief executive Itai Pazner left after more than two decades, including four years at the top. 888 said that it has suspended VIP customer accounts usually reserved for the wealthiest and most lucrative gamblers after an internal review found best practices had not been followed in areas, including anti-money laundering processes.

Its VIP accounts generate substantia­l turnover as high rollers are encouraged to bet huge sums.

Lord Mendelsohn, a Labour peer and the group’s chairman, has taken on day-to-day running until a permanent boss is found.

888 announces its full-year results at the end of the month. The industry is also waiting on the gambling white paper, which has been delayed for nearly two years, but could spell major changes for the sector, including affordabil­ity checks.

888 shares fell 0.9pc, or 0.6p, to 69.65p.

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