Shops owned by one of Britain’s biggest high street bookmakers were used to launder almost a million pounds of money linked to drug dealing, the gambling regulator announced on Monday.
In a rare admission that betting shops could be used to conceal the source of ill-gotten gains, the Gambling Commission said Coral would have to pay back the £90,000 it made from a single customer who visited shops in north-east England. The man in his 30s, who cannot be named while he is waiting to be sentenced, was charged by police in Durham as part of a campaign against organised crime.
He spent more than £1m with a number of operators in different sectors, including £100,000 in an Aspers casino, according to the commission.
Despite Coral submitting a suspicious activity report about the takings to the regulator, “little or no challenge was made by the operator, although there were extensive and realistic opportunities to do so”. The commission said Coral chose instead to “recognise the significance of the customer from a commercial perspective” – and gave him a complimentary day at the races as a valuable customer.
Bookmakers are licensed on condition that they “prevent gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder, or being used to support crime”. The regulator concedes that “in this case, the systems put in place by the operator were not sufficiently effective to deliver their obligations fully”.
This case of money laundering is one of largest recorded in the industry and campaigners argue for a tightening up of regulations – and demand that bookmakers cease lobbying against a Brussels directive which would force betting shops to perform checks on punters who gamble more than £1,700. At present, the threshold is £10,000.
A spokesman for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, which has highlighted the spread of betting in poorer areas, said: “The real reason bookmakers oppose the measure is that the roulette machines known as fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) are the main source of net profits. There are no cash restrictions on FOBTs. Gamblers who play FOBTs prefer anonymity and often load up large amounts of cash, which can be easily laundered.
“The Gambling Commission appears to be whitewashing this breach of the licensing objective of keeping crime out of gambling and incredibly heaps praise on Coral for commendable candour and openness”.
Source: The Guardian