888 Holdings in the News — Weekly Round-up for September 01, 2017

888 Holdings Fined Gbp 7.8 Million Following Gambling Commission Licence Review

Three months of investigations highlight player self-exclusion failings since corrected, but it’s an expensive lesson for 888

Online gambling operator 888 Holdings plc issued a stock exchange statement Thursday advising that the UK Gambling Commission‘s licence review commenced mid-May this year has been concluded with a “voluntary regulatory settlement” with the Commission and an expression of regret by 888 for the “historic failings highlighted by the review.”

A statement from the UK Gambling Commission advised that a record fine of over GBP 7.8 million has been imposed on 888 for not helping vulnerable customers to limit the damage of their gambling addictions.

The Gambling Commission statement revealed that, due to a technical failure in 888’s systems, over 7,000 customers who had chosen to self-exclude from their casino, poker or sports betting platform were still granted access their accounts on 888’s bingo platform.

The Commission found that the failings went undetected for “a prolonged period of time” which meant that affected customers were able to deposit a cumulative total of GBP 3.5 million into their accounts, and then continue to gamble, for over 13 months.

Investigators acknowledged that 888 did have self-exclusion procedures in place, but noted that their system was “not robust enough and failed to protect potentially vulnerable customers.”

In addition to the overarching charges, the Commission charged that 888 had failed to recognise “visible signs of problem gambling behaviour displayed by an individual customer, which was so significant that it resulted in criminal activity”.

In that particular case, the customer staked over GBP 1.3 million, including GBP 55,000 stolen from an employer. Over more than a year, the customer placed a significant number of bets and gambled, on average, three to four hours a day.

Commission CEO Sarah Harrison said:

“Safeguarding consumers is not optional. This penalty package of just under GBP 8 million reflects the seriousness of 888’s failings to protect vulnerable customers.”

Harrison explained that the fine includes repayment of the GBP 3.5 million of deposits made by those customers who had chosen to self-exclude, and also includes compensation of GBP 62,000 to the employer from whom money was stolen in that one particular case.

She said that a further GBP 4.25 million would be paid to a socially responsible cause.

The company, which cooperated fully with the Commission on the issues, accepted the conclusions of the review, and emphasised that the findings recognise the significant lengths that 888 has gone to in order to address the concerns raised and prevent the issues highlighted from reoccurring.

The advisory goes on to note that the UKGC review highlighted “some areas for improvement” in 888’s tools and processes and that these have been addressed.

888 operates two separate gaming technology platforms: one that hosts 888’s casino, sport and poker brands and a separate one that hosts 888’s bingo brands as well as a number of third party bingo brands, the company explains.

For a period of time, in some instances, a technical failure prevented customers who had requested to be self-excluded on one platform from being successfully excluded from both platforms.

888 alerted the UKGC about this technical failure and took the relevant customer actions.

“It was never 888’s intention to benefit financially from this technical failure and we have completed a detailed process to identify all affected customers. The Group is refunding customers who were able to continue playing when they should have been excluded across 888’s platforms,” the company claims, observing that it has devoted significant resources to assessing and delivering improvements to 888’s responsible gaming tools, processes and technology.

“This effort is near completion as we move to optimise our new tools,” the company reports. “We have worked closely with the UKGC and – aided by the fact that we develop and own our gaming technology – have been able to quickly and effectively make meaningful improvements to customers.

888 advise that these improvements include:

* Expanding and enhancing the algorithms that 888 uses to analyse playing patterns so as to help identify players who might be, or might become, vulnerable to problem gambling. As a result, the operator can observe broader trends in customer behaviour and better identify potentially vulnerable players thereby enabling 888’s trained team to interact earlier with customers who may need our help and support;

* Lowering the thresholds across certain metrics tracked by the 888 system that, when triggered, will lead to earlier customer interaction and the offer of support from a trained member of the 888 team;

* Improving proprietary technology to significantly enhance 888’s ability to identify customers who operate multiple accounts across 888 platforms, thereby ensuring more effective self-exclusion of customers who may have chosen to open multiple accounts; and

* Enhancing checks on customers’ sources of funds to ensure that the deposits 888 customers make are legitimate.

Other actions arising from the review process that 888 have addressed include enhanced training for staff members to help them identify and interact better with vulnerable or potentially vulnerable customers.

The communication ends with an assurance that the company continues to constantly develop innovative ways to deliver a responsible gaming environment.

“Our goal is to ensure that all those who visit our sites can do so with confidence and that those for whom our games are not intended, notably underage individuals and those vulnerable to addiction, will not be drawn into the gaming environment, and those few customers who develop a gambling problem are quickly identified and helped,” the company statement informs.

“Conducting business responsibly is fundamental to the future success of 888 and we understand that a responsible approach is both the correct way to do business and one that enhances credibility with all stakeholders, thereby supporting 888’s development. We will continue to focus on improvement in the area of responsible gaming to ensure we offer the most enjoyable and safest customer experience possible.”

Despite Problem Gambling Fine, 888 Shares Surge (Update)

Industry observers note company’s promotion to FTSE250 and the lessons it has learned from GBP 7.8 million UKGC fine

Today’s news that online gambling group 888 Holdings plc has been fined GBP 7.8 million for flaws in its responsible gambling and self-excluding systems have counter-intuitively resulted in the company’s shares surging upward by almost 6 percent in morning trading.

Industry observers note that the fact that 888 evaded having its licence pulled, allied to the hard lessons and regulatory adjustments it has had to make, have actually made the company attractive to investors and possibly made it a target for M&A searchers.

Others point out that in putting the three-month long Commission investigation behind it and addressing its shortcomings, the company is now on firmer ground.

The fact that the company has been promoted to the FTSE 250 from the small cap market due to the remarkable rise in its share price in the past year probably helped as well; 888 shares have gained more than 22 percent and have jumped over 21 percent in the past 12 months.