UKGC Fines William Hill £6.2 million for Money Laundering Prevention Failures

 UKGC Fines William Hill £6.2 million for Money Laundering Prevention Failures

William Hill continues to put itself on the bad side of the UK’s regulatory agencies. Less than a month after coming to an agreement with the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority to remedy unfair promotional marketing practices, the gambling operator has been fined £6.2 million by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) for failing to protect problem gamblers and prevent money laundering.

“We will use the full range of our enforcement powers to make gambling fairer and safer,” said UKGC Executive Director Neil McArthur in a news release. “This was a systemic failing at William Hill which went on for nearly two years and today’s penalty package – which could exceed £6.2m – reflects the seriousness of the breaches.”

“Gambling businesses have a responsibility to ensure that they keep crime out of gambling and tackle problem gambling – and as part of that they must be constantly curious about where the money they are taking is coming from.”

In an investigation, the Gambling Commission found that William Hill fell short of money laundering and social responsibility regulations numerous times between November 2014 and August 2016. In that time, ten customers were able to deposit sizable sums of money – six-figures worth – that were “linked to criminal offences.” William Hill profited £1.2 million from these players.

William Hill will be required to surrender that money and make any players whole who might have been victimized by the customers who should not have been permitted to gamble. The other £5 is a punitive measure.

Here is a sampling of the violations committed by William Hill, per the UKGC press release:

• A customer was allowed to deposit £654,000 over nine months without source of funds checks being carried out. The customer lived in rented accommodation and was employed within the accounts department of a business earning around £30,000 per annum.
• A customer was allowed to deposit £541,000 over 14 months after the operator made the assumption that the customer’s potential income could be £365,000 per annum based on a verbal conversation and without further probing. The reality was that the customer was earning around £30,000 a year and was funding his gambling habit by stealing from his employer.
• A customer who was allowed to deposit £653,000 in an 18 month period activated a financial alert at WHG. The alert resulted in a grading of ‘amber risk’ which required, in accordance with the licensee’s anti-money laundering policy, a customer profile to be reviewed. The file was marked as passed to managers for review but this did not occur due to a systems failure. The customer was able to continue gambling for a further six months despite continuing to activate financial alerts.
• A customer was identified by WHG as having an escalating gambling spend with deposit levels exceeding £100,000. WHG interacted with the customer seeking assurance that the customer was ‘comfortable with their level of spend’. After receiving verbal assurance and without investigating the wider circumstances the operator continued to allow the customer to gamble. In our view that interaction was inadequate and did not review the customer’s behaviour sufficiently to identify if their behaviour was indicative of problem gambling.
• A customer exceeded deposits of £147,000 in an 18 month period with an escalating spend and losses of £112,000. WHG systems identified the issue but its only response over a 12 month period was to send two automated social responsibility emails. Our view is that this action alone was not sufficient given the customer’s gambling behaviour coupled with the severity of the losses.

So basically, William Hill saw players deposit tons of money and possibly lose tons of money or not really be able to prove they actually had this sort of money to spend and just said, “Yeah, it’s cool. Have fun.”

William Hill, for its part, has said that it has cooperated with the UKGC and is working to improve its customer screening procedures.

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Portugal Publishes Shared Liquidity Framework, Player Pools to Merge with Spain and France Soon

 Portugal Publishes Shared Liquidity Framework, Player Pools to Merge with Spain and France Soon

Just over a month since Spain and France merged their online poker player pools, Portugal is about to join them. On Friday, the Serviço de Regulação e Inspeção de Jogos (SRIJ), the country’s gaming regulatory body, published its technical standards framework for shared player liquidity. The next step is for Portuguese players to join Spanish and French players at the tables.

In mid-January, PokerStars became the first online poker room to host players from France and Spain at the same virtual tables. Prior to that moment, the two countries, along with Portugal and Italy, had ring fenced their players from the rest of the world, allowing them to play only on country-specific sites.

The four countries announced an agreement to share liquidity in July 2017 and wanted to merge their player pools by the end of the year, but obviously were not quite able to do so. Portugal clearly lagged behind Spain and France slightly, but is now expected to join them – almost certainly on PokerStars – within the next few days.

Roughly translated using the handy-dandy Google Translate and smoothed out by yours truly, the framework says that the SRIJ will make games and bets available between:

1. players registered on a “.pt” domain that is licensed to offer online gambling in Portugal;
2. players registered in the “.pt” domain and players whose access is established outside the Portuguese territory and which are registered in another domain under licenses issued in accordance with jurisdictions where online gambling and betting and shared liquidity are admitted under the law and / or its regulator.

The key online gambling product here is online poker. While online casinos (those that offer games like slots and blackjack) obviously want lots of customers, the actual functioning of their games is not dependent on player traffic. Customers can easily and happily play at tables by themselves and have the same experience they would if there were other players present. In fact, people might prefer to play alone, as they don’t have to worry about someone making an incorrect play in blackjack or wasting time at the roulette table.

With poker, though, player traffic is of the utmost importance. Cash games only run if there is more than one person at the table, multi-table tournaments often have registration minimums, and Sit-and-Go’s don’t start until they are full. And though cash games can operate with just two players, most people would much rather play at full or near-full ring game tables. Thus, if a site doesn’t have steady player traffic, the tables will be mostly empty, resulting in potential new players staying away and the tables remaining mostly empty.

Thus, shared liquidity is important. The larger a potential player base a country has, the more traffic its poker sites will have. Portugal by itself has struggled to supply players to online poker rooms, but with Spain and France to help (and hopefully Italy later), the poker rooms should be much more viable.

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ESPN WSOP Broadcast Schedule Released

 ESPN WSOP Broadcast Schedule Released

For the second year in a row, ESPN and Poker Central are teaming up to broadcast the 2018 World Series of Poker Main Event. Combined, the two will air “start to finish everyday coverage” of the granddaddy of all poker tournaments from July 2nd through July 14th. Last week, ESPN and the WSOP released the broadcast schedule for ESPN and ESPN2.

During the times that the WSOP is not airing on the ESPN family of networks, Poker Central will stream coverage on its subscription program, PokerGO. PokerGO will not show coverage that ESPN airs, nor will ESPN broadcast anything that PokerGO airs. They will complement each other, not overlap. In addition to the Main Event, ESPN and Poker Central will also air the $ 1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop.

“Last year, both ESPN viewership and PokerGO subscription numbers were very strong throughout the WSOP Main Event,” said JR McCabe, chief digital officer of Poker Central, in a press release. “This year, we’re doubling down on live coverage of the World Series of Poker by adding the Big One for One Drop and bringing even more live poker to fans worldwide.”

The ESPN schedule:

July 2 – 8:00 PM – 1:00 AM ET – WSOP Main Event: Day 1A – ESPN2
July 3 – 8:00 PM – 11:00 PM ET – WSOP Main Event: Day 1B – ESPN2
July 4 – 8:30 PM – 12:00 AM ET – WSOP Main Event: Day 1C – ESPN2
July 5 – 10:00 PM – 12:00 AM ET – WSOP Main Event: Day 2A/B – ESPN2
July 6 – 8:30 PM – 12:00 AM ET – WSOP Main Event: Day 2C – ESPN2
July 7 – 6:00 PM – 10:30 PM ET – WSOP Main Event: Day 3 – ESPN2
July 8 – 2:00 PM – 6:00 PM ET – WSOP Main Event: Day 4 – ESPN
July 9 – 10:00 PM – 2:00 AM ET – WSOP Main Event: Day 5 – ESPN2
July 10 – 8:00 PM – 11:00 PM ET – WSOP Main Event: Day 6 – ESPN
July 11 – 12:30 AM – 2:00 AM ET – WSOP Main Event: Day 7 – ESPN2
July 12 – 9:00 PM – END ET – WSOP Main Event: Day 8 – ESPN (Final Table – 9 to 6 players)
July 13 – 9:00 PM – END ET – WSOP Main Event: Day 9 – ESPN (Final Table – 6 to 3 players)
July 14 – 9:00 PM – END ET – WSOP Main Event: Day 10 – ESPN (Final Table – 3 players to champion)
July 17 – 12:00 AM – 2:00 AM ET – WSOP Big One for One Drop: ESPN2 (Live)
July 17 – 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM ET – WSOP Big One for One Drop: ESPN2 (Tape replay)
July 17 – 9:00 PM – END ET – WSOP Big One for One Drop: ESPN2 (Live)
July 21 – 11:00 PM – 1:00 AM ET – WSOP Big One for One Drop: ESPN2 (Tape replay)

ESPN will also broadcast another 130 hours of “originally produced” episodes, meaning not live poker. Poker Central’s broadcast schedule will be released at a later date.

“We’re ecstatic that ESPN and Poker Central continue to raise the bar and deliver more live poker content to audiences across the globe,” said World Series of Poker executive director Ty Stewart. “Fans today demand immediacy and wall-to-wall coverage and this year’s offering delivers on that in spades.”

No pun intended.

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Viktor Blom Has the Onions, Wins partypoker LIVE MILLIONS Germany Main Event

 Viktor Blom Has the Onions, Wins partypoker LIVE MILLIONS Germany Main Event

I once made a pretty big call in a tournament for a couple hundred dollars. I lost, but I ended up coming in third and won $ 3,500, which is this high roller’s most sizable tourney score. I know, I know, stop bragging already. I cannot imagine, though, making a call with almost an empty hand and €100,000. But that’s what Viktor “Isildur1” Blom did this weekend in the partypoker LIVE MILLIONS Germany €5,300 Main Event and that is why he is a pro and I am just here writing about it.

Of the more than 1,000 players who started the event, just 13 remained going into the final day and when the official eight-handed final table was set, Blom was second in chips with 144.8 million, nearly tied with Pavel Pesluv (143.1 million) who was coincidentally the man he would face at the end. Ondrej Drozd was way ahead with 258.6 million.

But you’re here to read about what happened to close out the tourney, so let’s skip to that. During heads-up, Plesuv went on a tear, building as much as a 9-to-1 chip lead on Blom, clearly looking like he was going to take home the title. But Blom roared back, eventually taking the lead.

On the final hand, Hand 242 of the final table, blinds were 6 million/12 million with 12 million chip ante. Holding K-6, Blom raised pre-flop to 35 million and Plesuv called with Q-7. Clearly, neither man had an incredible hand, but this was heads-up, so a face card is pretty solid.

The flop was Q-9-K, pairing both players’ top cards and giving both backdoor flush draws. Blom bet 45 million this time and Plesuv check-called. The A was dealt on the turn, now giving Plesuv a flush draw. He check-called a huge 105 million chip bet from Blom to bring on the river 5. At that point, with just third pair and a busted flush draw, Plesuv moved all-in for 299 million.

Blom tanked. He had just 344 million chips remaining, so if he were to call – with just second pair, mind you – he was crippled. And then, casually, he made the call, picking off Plesuv’s bluff and sending the announcers on the telecast into a frenzy. I couldn’t hear what Plesuv said to him, but he was smiling and frankly seemed impressed that Blom was able to read him correctly.

From the brief commentary that I heard in the video clip I watched, the analysts seemed to reason that Blom may have figured the only hand he was losing to was an Ace-high flush based on Plesuv’s play. Since Blom had the K and Plesuv check-called an Ace on the turn with a heart flush draw out there, Plesuv either had worse than a pair of Kings or was waiting on his Ace-high flush to come in. Blom took the chance that Plesuv didn’t have the flush and he was right.

Before heads-up, Blom and Plesuv made a deal to in which they would each win €750,000 and leave €100,000 plus the trophy for which to play. Of course, after the Mike Leah controversy, people may be skeptical as to whether or not making a deal tarnishes Blom’s victory, but it certainly looks like both men played all-out, like both were definitely trying to win (Blom probably wouldn’t have come back from 9-to-1 down if this wasn’t the case). Plus, €100,000 is nothing to sneeze at, so it was not likely that either would’ve just thrown away a chance to win the extra dough once the deal was made and the money was there for the taking.

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Poker Players Alliance Calls for Financial Donations

 Poker Players Alliance Calls for Financial Donations

For the first time in the organization’s history, the Poker Players Alliance has sent out a desperation call for donations to aid in their work.

After taking the helm of the PPA last week from the departing John Pappas (who will depart the organization at the end of February), new PPA president Rich Muny issued an e-mail to their members and e-mail followers. Citing the decrease in donations from online poker sites and other internet gaming advocates, Muny admits to the constituency that the PPA is not doing well. “Over the past several months, we have been adjusting to a significant reduction in donations from the internet gaming industry, this despite our successes in Pennsylvania just a few months ago,” Muny writes in the e-mail. “We now find ourselves possibly shutting down right before what could be the biggest year for iPoker and iGaming yet.

How bad could the situation be for what is supposedly a million-member strong organization, which seemingly had support from many of the major players in the live and online world? “(The) PPA cannot continue fighting for poker if we do not meet our fundraising goal of $ 25,000 by the end of March,” Muny continues. “With support from poker players and enthusiasts like you, we can easily make this goal.”

“Every dollar donated will go toward core operational expenses of our grassroots communications and advocacy, as our communications tools are crucial to PPA’s mission,” Muny concludes. “Please be sure to help ensure PPA’s continued leadership for our game!”

It must be stated that the PPA has never required a fee for membership in the organization. When it was initially founded back in the early Aughts, it depended on donations from members and others who believed in the goals of the group – to defend the rights of poker players and the ability to play the game either live or online. The group was able to raise a good deal of its base funding through the grassroots of the game – the players – and advocate in several arenas.

After the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act in 2006, however, poker players lost faith in the PPA. Despite pleas from the PPA leadership that they had staved off passage of the UIGEA longer than if they hadn’t been around (and, to be honest, the UIGEA was a tack-on to a must-pass piece of legislation in the dark of night in 2006), the very people that the PPA was looking to represent began to lose faith in the organization itself.

There was an eager party willing to step in at that time, however. Online poker sites, looking to either keep the lights on the U. S. market or to get passage of pro-online gaming and poker regulations, began to supplement the PPA’s legislative and lobbying activities. As such, the PPA swung most of its efforts into working for online poker, to the point of putting some of the executives from these online poker sites on the Board of Directors of the PPA. This would prove to be another dagger in the heart of the group, though.

When “Black Friday” came in 2011 – the seizure and shutdown of the three biggest online poker operations in the U. S. – players once again complained about the lack of success from the PPA. When it was discovered that members of the ownership of Full Tilt Poker were intricately involved with the PPA’s Board of Directors, those complaints grew louder about how the group was now an “AstroTurf” (instead of grassroots) organization defending the online sites rather than the players. Although those involved with FTP were expelled from the PPA’s leadership, it was a bit too late.

Over the past seven years – with other online sites shutting down left and right and players losing millions of dollars – the PPA was unable to draw attention to those “screw jobs” from those sites. Instead, they concentrated their efforts on a low-cost means of advocacy through Facebook and Twitter called the “Daily Action Plan.” Although those actions would have both a good and detrimental effect on the debate, the money began to dry up from the online sites.

As little as four years ago, the PPA was drawing in roughly $ 5 million per year in donations and “membership fees” (parenthesis because members of the PPA do not have a set fee to pay yearly, it is by donation). Over the past couple of years, though, the monies coming in have dwindled to roughly $ 2-plus million and, it has been argued, led to the departure of Pappas.

Whether this fundraising effort will be successful is unknown. The PPA has a contingent that still believes in their work. They also have another contingent that doesn’t believe that the PPA is giving the right “bang for the buck” when it comes to lobbying for poker players’ rights and online and live poker. It remains to be seen what will become of the organization in what is a very pivotal year for online gaming, poker and perhaps other forms of internet gaming.

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