Caesars UK to pay £13million for social responsibility, AML & customer interaction failings

The Gambling Commission has announced today (2 April 2020) that, following an investigation that revealed social responsibility, money laundering and customer interaction failures between January 2016 and December 2018 (including serious systematic failings in the way the company took decisions about VIP customers“), it has concluded a regulatory settlement with Caesars Entertainment UK Limited (“CEUK”) under which:

  1. CEUK will pay £13million in lieu of a financial penalty, which will be directed towards delivering the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms,
  2. Additional conditions will be imposed on the casino licences held by CEUK group companies,
  3. CEUK has agreed to the publication of a statement of facts in relation to this case (that you can download below); and
  4. CEUK will pay £115,000 towards the Commission’s costs of investigating the case.

The Commission’s announcement lists:

  • the following examples of social responsibility failings:
    • Inadequate interaction with a customer who was known to have previously self-excluded and lost £240,000 over a 13-month period
    • Inadequate interaction with a customer who lost £323,000 in a 12-month period and had displayed signs of problem gambling which included 30 sessions exceeding five hours
    • A customer allowed to lose £18,000 in a year despite identifying herself as a self-employed nanny and informing staff that her savings had been spent, and that she was borrowing money from family and using an overdraft facility to fund gambling activities
    • Inadequate interaction with, and source of funds checks on, a customer who identified as a retired postman and lost £15,000 in 44 days.
  • the following examples of money laundering failings
    • The operator not carrying out adequate source of funds checks on a customer who was allowed to drop around £3.5 million and lose £1.6 million over a period of three months.
    • The operator not obtaining adequate evidence of source of funds for a politically exposed person (PEP) who lost £795,000 during a 13-month period
    • The operator not carrying out enhanced customer due diligence (ECDD) checks on a consumer who lost £240,000 over a 13-month period
    • The operator not carrying out adequate source of funds checks on a customer who identified as a waitress and was allowed to buy-in £87,000 and lose £15,000 during a 12-month period.

The Gambling Commission has added that:

  • as a result of this investigation three senior managers at the company surrendered their personal licences“, and
  • in order to ensure industry learning, gambling operators should take account of the failings identified in this investigation and consider the following questions:
    1. Are your governance and audit arrangements effective?
    2. Are your policies and procedures for identifying high risk customers for AML and SR purposes effective? 
    3. Are you following the Commission’s guidance as set out in ‘The Prevention of Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism – Guidance for remote and non-remote casinos’?
    4. Have you adequately resourced your AML and SR departments, so your staff are always able to put your policies and processes in place for all customers? 
    5. Are you following the Commissions guidance set out in ‘Customer Interaction Formal Guidance Non Remote – July 2019‘ in respect of recording all customer interactions, including decisions not to interact with customers, and are these records available for colleagues to refer to when making decisions? 
    6. Are your customers providing documentation to support their level of spend and loss, and not simply giving assurances? 
    7. Do you have resilience within your eService reporting team?
    8. Have you completed a local risk assessment and are you periodically reviewing it (at least annually)?

The above are all matters on which we have considerable experience in advising both land-based and remote casino operators (before, during and after investigations by the Gambling Commission), so anyone requiring advice in any of the above respects is welcome to contact us.

Announcing the terms of the regulatory settlement, the Commission has said:

The action against Caesars is the latest in a line of tough regulatory action by the Commission.

Since January the Commission has suspended the operating licences of Stakers Limited, Addison Global Limited, and Multi Media International Limited.

So far this year regulatory action has led to the industry paying £27 million in penalty packages. This includes £11.6 million for Betway and £3 million for Mr Green.

Neil McArthur, the Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, has added:

We have published this case at this time because it’s vitally important that the lessons are factored into the work the industry is currently doing to address poor practices of VIP management in which we must see rapid progress made.

The failings in this case are extremely serious. A culture of putting customer safety at the heart of business decisions should be set from the very top of every company and Caesars failed to do this. We will now continue to investigate the individual licence holders involved with the decisions taken in this case.

In recent times the online sector has received the greatest scrutiny around VIP practices but VIP practices are found right across the industry and our tough approach to compliance and enforcement will continue, whether a business is on the high street or online.

We are absolutely clear about our expectations of operators – whatever type of gambling they offer they must know their customers. They must interact with them and check what they can afford to gamble with – stepping in when they see signs of harm.  Consumer safety is non-negotiable.

The full Public Statement in relation to CEUK can be downloaded below. It comes one day after the Gambling Commission published its response to the recommendations of the industry working groups on use of VIP incentives, safer products and safer advertising online, on which we have reported separately here.

UPDATE: On 3 March 2021, under the heading “Personal licence holders at Caesars Entertainment held to account”, the Gambling Commission announced that it has taken action against Personal Management Licence (PML) holders at Caesars Entertainment, stating as follows:

In April 2020 the regulator announced that Caesars Entertainment UK Limited will pay £13m and implement a series of improvements following a catalogue of failures including those involving ‘VIPs’.

The investigation into PML holders was launched because there were concerns they had failed to take all reasonable steps to ensure the way in which they carry out their responsibilities in relation to licensed activities does not place the holder of the operating or any relevant premises licence in breach of their licence conditions.

As a result of the investigation:

  • Seven PML holders receiving licence warnings issued
  • Two PML holders receiving advice to conduct letters
  • Three PML holders surrendering their licence following notification that their licence had been placed under review.

In addition:

  • One PML holder surrendered their licence whilst subject to investigation but prior to notification of a licence review
  • One PML holder who was under investigation was subject to revocation due to non-payment of licence fees
  • Eighteen PML holders received an advice to conduct letter outside the review process.

In a separate incident, one Caesars’ PML holder had his licence revoked following an altercation with a guest at his place of work.

The Commission’s sanctions register has been updated to reflect the regulatory decisions.

Richard Watson, Commission Executive Director, said: “All personal licence holders should be aware that they will be held accountable, where appropriate, for the regulatory failings within the operators they manage.”