The bookmaker Betfred has agreed to an £800,000 settlement after accepting stolen cash from a “VIP” customer, who was allegedly offered free drinks and day trips to encourage him to keep betting.
Betfred, based in Gibraltar, was found to have failed to meet its obligations on social responsibility and the prevention of money laundering, after taking thousands of pounds from the convicted thief Matthew Stevens.
The accountant pleaded guilty to two counts of theft earlier this year, after funnelling cash out of the business he worked for in order to fund his gambling habit.
The settlement comes just a day after a BBC investigation claimed that staff at the high-street bookmaker Coral were told to offer customers perks – including drinks and free bets – to keep them betting on “crack cocaine” fixed-odds betting terminals.
The Gambling Commission said Betfred would pay more than £800,000 in “compensation and in contribution towards socially responsible causes” after a review of its licence.
Under the terms of the latest settlement, Betfred will pay £443,000 to the victims of the criminal activities. A further £344,500 will be paid to socially responsible causes, agreed with the commission.
Betfred will also meet the commission’s investigation costs and perform an independent third party review of its anti-money laundering and social responsibility policies and procedures
Stevens was jailed for three years and four months earlier this year after he was found to have plundered more than £850,000 from his firm’s accounts over a 13-month period to fuel his gambling addiction. “A significant proportion of the stolen money was spent with Betfred,” the commission said.
The case was referred to the commission over claims made in court that staff offered Stevens free bets and days out to go gambling, despite him racking up huge losses between 2013 and 2015.
Betfred confirmed that the customer was considered to be a VIP player and would have been in its top 5% of customers in terms of spend and profit, the Gambling Commission said.
Leeds crown court heard in January that Stevens siphoned more than £850,000 out of an accounting firm owned by businessman Mahmood Mahzar, who “treated him like a son”.
The court heard that Stevens “bled” the company accounts dry and covered up the theft by fabricating transactions. He continued to protest his innocence even after HMRC flagged up some £250,000 in unpaid taxes, falsifying documents to suggest that the tax authority had made a mistake.
Stevens, of Rothwell, pleaded guilty to two offences of theft from an employer.
The payout is the latest in a string of settlements with gambling firms since Sarah Harrison took over as chief executive of the Gambling Commission in October last year. Harrison, who was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list, has promised to crack down on firms that do not do their utmost to prevent problem gambling and money-laundering.
The regulator announced an £880,000 settlement with Coral in April, after the bookmaker took hundreds of thousands of pounds from a “VIP” problem gambler who was using the proceeds of theft to feed his habit.
Earlier this year, Paddy Power was forced to pay out £280,000 after the commission found that it had encouraged a problem gambler to keep betting until he lost five jobs, his home and access to his children.
Richard Watson, programme director at the commission, said: “We identified a number of weaknesses in the anti-money laundering and social responsibility controls used by Betfred. The penalty package of over £800,000 reflects these failures. “The commission has now concluded a wide range of cases over the last 10 months leading to around £3.75million in penalty packages.
“The outcomes and findings in these cases provide a clear signal to operators of the need to learn the lessons from these for social responsibility and money laundering controls, or risk facing tougher sanctions.”
Source: The Guardian