What the media did not focus on when reporting the recent Flutter Entertainment High Court case

The Daily Mail has reported as follows the High Court judgment delivered by Mr Justice Griffiths on 4 June 2021 in the case of Amarjeet Singh Dhir v Flutter Entertainment PLC [2021] EWHC 1510 (QB):

Paddy Power ‘did not really care’ as it offered gambling addict businessman a £20,000 bonus and plied him with ‘lavish’ hospitality at sporting events as he racked up £77,846 in losses on bets totalling £2.3 million, court hears

Other media have carried the same story under the common heading “Bookmaker Paddy Power ‘did not really care’ about problem gambler, says judge”.

Contrary to the impression that may have been given by such articles, this case did not involve a claim against an online bookmaker by a problem gambler for repayment of losses incurred by him.

In fact, the claim against the online bookmaker in question – i.e. Paddy Power Betfair (subsequently re-named as ‘Flutter Entertainment’) – was to recover funds that a third party had advanced to a customer of that bookmaker for the purposes of property investment, but which had instead been used by the customer to fund his problem gambling habit.

As a result, the case did not raise the same type of ‘duty of care’ issues that were addressed, for example, in the Court of Appeal judgment in the case of Graham Calvert v William Hill Credit Limited [2008] EWCA Civ 1427. Instead, it primarily focused on consequences arising from the commercial and contractual arrangements made between (a) the problem gambler and the third party who had advanced funds to him and (b) the online bookmaker and the wife of one of its then VIP Managers.

Whilst Mr Justice Griffiths found in favour of the online bookmaker on the  commercial and contractual issues in dispute, the case did nevertheless involve consideration of the problem gambler’s dealings with the online bookmaker.

In this latter respect, Mr Justice Griffiths found that Paddy Power Betfair knew that:

  • from its own monitoring of the customer in question, he was “gambling like a problem gambler with an unhealthy and unsustainable gambling addiction on an escalating and desperate scale”,
  • the information he provided “did not suggest that he could afford to gamble on this scale, or that he had legitimate sources of wealth from which to fund”, 
  • “his losses were unsustainable on his known income and assets” and
  • “when they tried to get information from him to show source of wealth and source of funds, they failed”,

but that, despite knowing all of the above, “they continued to accept his stakes and, indeed, by providing gambling bonuses and lavish hospitality, to encourage him to gamble more. It stopped only when he stopped it himself by self-exclusion”.

Whilst those are damning criticisms, the circumstances giving rise to them were fully investigated three years ago by the Gambling Commission, resulting in a £2.2million regulatory settlement concluded between the Commission and Paddy Power Betfair in October 2018, the agreed terms of which were embodied within a Public Statement, as we reported here at that time.

Even though reference to the Public Statement is contained at paragraph 111 of Mr Justice Griffiths’ judgment (which can be accessed here), we anticipate considerable reliance being placed on the media reports of that judgment by those seeking to ensure that the UK Government’s Review of the Gambling Act 2005 results in considerably greater regulatory burdens being imposed on UK licensed gambling operators.

In the interests of a properly balanced view being adopted during that Government Review process, it is therefore very important that due note is taken of:

  • the fact that the above-mentioned regulatory failings on the part of Paddy Power Betfair do not represent “new news” but were:
    • fully investigated by the Gambling Commission in 2018 and
    • the subject of the above-mentioned regulatory settlement,
  • the marked improvement since 2018 in social responsibility standards on the part of the UK licensed online gambling sector:
    • driven to a great extent in recent times by the Betting and Gaming Council (of which Flutter Entertainment is a leading member) and
    • as required by more demanding LCCP requirements set by the Gambling Commission, and
  • recognition by Mr Justice Griffiths of admissions made in evidence by Daniel Taylor, currently CEO of Flutter Entertainment’s international operations, that in relation to the historic dealings between Paddy Power Betfair and the problem gambler described in the judgment: there were ‘without doubt… strong indicators of problem gambling’ and ‘our responsible gambling responsibilities were not met in this case’. Paddy Power’s approach to responsible gambling ‘was not good enough …. and for that, you know, I am embarrassed’.”