U.K. Labour Party Leader Calls for Online Casino License Review

Tom Watson, who serves as Deputy Leader of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party, has officially put UK online gambling operators on notice.

In a letter sent last week to U.K. Gambling Commission (UKGC) chief executive officer Neil McArthur and Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Jeremy Wright, Watson sounded the alarm over unscrupulous iGaming providers.

Recent Spate of High-Profile Fines Prompts Warning

Watson’s letter cited a series of fines levied by the UKGC earlier this month, in which four iGaming firms were forced to pay £4.5 million (USD 5.7 million) in combined penalties.

All told, InTouch Games Limited forfeited £2.2 million (USD 2.8 million); Betit Operations Limited was fined £1.4 million (USD 1.8 million); MT Secure Trade surrendered £700,000 (USD 900,000), and BestBet parted ways with £230,972 (USD 297,000) for various regulatory violations. In the most egregious cases, these companies were caught allowing bettors to wager six-figure sums without running the required affordability checks designed to prevent problem gambling.

Watson framed the fines paid by these companies – three of which operate online casinos in the U.K.  from offshore – as evidence that UKGC licensing procedures must be improved to protect players:

“The regulator cannot be in a position where it is continually playing catch-up to an opaque and agile global industry.

We need a structured response to the situation. This will require a total overhaul of our register of current remote sector licenses.”

All four operators were fined for neglecting to perform strict anti-money laundering procedures.

As a result, Watson urged the UKGC to perform a thorough review of all licensed online gambling providers to ensure their ongoing integrity:

“This review would be an opportunity for existing remote license-holders to reapply for the privilege of operating and marketing in the UK.

It is essential that the government, working with the regulator, can reassess the financial probity of operators, the identity and character of their owners, the contributions they make to the research, education and treatment of problem gambling, the partnerships they have with our sports clubs, and any recent breaches of license conditions.”

For its part, the UKGC commented on its iGaming oversight standards via comments delivered by the director of enforcement and intelligence Richard Watson:

“We have been working hard to raise standards in the online industry to ensure that gambling is crime-free and that the one in five people in Britain who gamble online every month can do so safely.

But our work will not stop here. As a regulator, we will continue to set and enforce standards that the industry must comply with to protect consumers.

We expect operators to know their customers and to ask the right questions to make sure they meet their anti-money laundering and social responsibility obligations.”

Watson Known for Urging iGaming Reform

This isn’t Watson’s first attempt to rein in online casinos, poker rooms, and sportsbooks operating across the U.K.

In February, Watson delivered a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a U.K. think-tank, which called for a new Gambling Act.

As Watson argued, the 2005 Gambling Act which currently regulates iGaming in the country has become woefully outdated:

“The word ‘Internet’ is mentioned only twice in the 2005 Gambling Act, alongside ‘telephone’ and ‘radio.’ The word ‘email’ is used just once, and ‘social media’ not at all.

By contrast, betting through the postal service is mentioned five times. And there are over a dozen mentions of the football pools, which were popular at the time but are now in decline.

We have a 14-year old Gambling Act which is clearly out of date. It is a piece of analogue legislation failing to meet the needs of the digital age.

Technology has transformed since 2005, and gambling has changed with it.”

Watson’s Labour Party finished in third place with 14.1 percent of the vote in the recent European Parliament elections.