The Gambling Commission (UKGC) withheld information from the Financial Times (FT) so as not to undermine public trust in the regulator.
The UKGC declined to reveal the identities of specific companies and individuals amid the newspaper’s explosive investigation into Premier League betting sponsors.
The 31-minute FT documentary focused on the “mystery owners” behind Asia-facing gambling brands that sponsor Premier League clubs as it put the white-label provider model under the microscope.
The exposé claimed to uncover a “global network of shell companies and front organisations” as FT reporters sought to establish a link between white-label providers, Asian betting operators, and SunCity Group, the Asian behemoth founded by Alvin Chau, who is now serving an 18-year prison sentence for operating illegal gambling activities.
The FT felt it had struck gold when it came across a 2014 press release that described white-label provider TGP Europe as “owned by TGP Holdings, part of the SunCity Group”.
Then, in January 2017, a UKGC statement on TGP Europe and Fesuge Limited, the company behind former Watford FC sponsor 138.com, crucially said that both businesses were “part of a single group of companies”.
When probed further by the FT in 2023, the UKGC changed its position. Instead, it said the businesses were owned by separate companies that shared some of the same owners.
The FT then asked the UKGC to identify the individual companies and owners in a freedom of information (FOI) request, but the regulator declined to provide the information.
As part of a longer response, it said: “The public trust that the Commission has robust processes in place to assess operators so that when they use the services provided by an operator, they are confident that there has been sufficient scrutiny of that operator to ensure they are protected.
“If this information were released, it would undermine that confidence.
“We consider that the public interest is better served by withholding this information…”
FT video journalist James Sandy said he was “stunned” by the response.
“The UK’s regulator refused to reveal what it knew about 138.com and TGP Europe’s owners under a freedom of information request because it felt that it would undermine public trust in its ability to do its job,” he added.
However, the full UKGC response to the FT’s FOI request confirms that adhering to data protection protocol was also a key driver behind the regulator’s decision to withhold the identities.
The Commission said that information relating to specific operators and their ultimate ownership is exempt from disclosure under the FOI Act unless it has already been made publicly available.
“Further to this, identifying individuals associated with operators would constitute their personal data,” said the UKGC. “We are therefore unable to provide details of the individual(s) who owns TGP Europe Limited and Fesuge Limited.
“The Data Protection Act 2018 requires the processing of personal data to be fair and lawful. It would be disproportionate for us to publicly disclose these details unless there is a strong public interest in doing so.
“These individuals have a legitimate expectation that their personal details will not be disclosed in the context in which they are held.
“On balance, there is no legitimate public interest in disclosing this information and it would not be fair to do so,” it added.
The Gambling Commission has ordered TGP Europe to pay a £316,250 penalty for anti-money laundering (AML) and social responsibility failures.
The white-label specialist – which powers 19 UK gambling websites including Stake.com and Sportsbet.io – will also receive an official warning and have conditions added to its licence.
The vast majority of TGP Europe’s white-label clients are Asia-based sports betting operators, including Newcastle United sponsor Fun88 and Leeds United sponsor SBOTOP.
The UKGC uncovered multiple failings between April 2020 and August 2022. It made the decision to impose licence conditions, a financial penalty and a warning on 22 February 2023.
An investigation found that customers were allowed to continue to gamble after hitting multiple safer gambling alerts without intervention.
The operator was also adjudged to have relied on automated interactions when those limits were triggered, instead of human interaction.
TGP also failed to properly assess the effectiveness of these interactions, according the UKGC.
Additionally, Several of the operator’s AML procedures were deemed inadequate by the regulator, including its money laundering and terrorist financing risk assessment.
TGP failed to adequately consider or mitigate the money laundering risks posed by its B2B relationships in the eyes of the Commission, which is especially important for a white-label provider using the brand rights of another business.
As a result, additional conditions have been added to TGP’s licence to ensure that thorough due diligence checks are conducted by the company in future.
The Gambling Commission said it has reminded all operators entering white-label partnerships of their obligations.
Last month, the UKGC imposed its biggest regulatory settlement ever of £19.2m on William Hill, the British bookmaker now owned by 888.
The Gambling Commission (UKGC) has hit Aspire Global with a £237,600 fine for anti-money laundering failures.
The Malta-based operator – which powers 66 websites in the UK primarily on a white-label basis – also received an official warning and had conditions added to its licence.
Aspire was unable to prove it had carried out appropriate due diligence checks on six of its third-party white-label operator partners, according to the Commission.
The breaches were discovered following a licence review undertaken by the regulator, while the decision to impose a fine was made on 14 November.
In February 2022, the UKGC earmarked white-label partnerships as “high risk” for AML failings.
The regulator’s current guidance on the subject says: “Operators should also give due consideration to the money laundering risks posed by their business-to-business relationships, including any third parties they contract with.
“The assessment of these risks are based, among other things, on the risks posed to the operator by the jurisdictional location of their third-party and any relevant domestic anti-money laundering legislation they must comply with, transactions and arrangements with business associates and third-party suppliers such as payment providers and processors, including their beneficial ownership and source of funds.
“Effective management of third-party relationships should assure operators that the relationship is a legitimate one, and that they can evidence why their confidence is justified.”
The UKGC has this year dished out more than £45m in financial penalties to UK-licensed operators, mostly for AML and social responsibility breaches.
The Commission has ramped up its enforcement action in recent years. For comparison, the regulator imposed fines of just £1.7m against three operators throughout the entirety of the 2016/17 financial year.