Sports wagering company Ladbrokes has been fined by Australia’s Northern Territory Racing Commission (NTRC) for serious breaches of its license and failing to limit the damage caused by Gavin Fineff, a financial adviser who stole millions of dollars from his clients to service his gambling addiction. The NTRC imposed three fines at the maximum penalty rate on Ladbrokes, totaling AUD 78,540 ($52,264).
According to the commission, Ladbrokes failed to investigate whether Fineff could afford his extensive bets and the source of his money. Instead, the company enticed him to spend more money with bonuses worth AUD 528,890.
“Right from the earliest moments of its first interaction with the gambler, Ladbrokes appears to have not given due attention to whether the gambler could afford to gamble to the levels that he was,” said an NTRC judgment dated 27 February, as reported by The Guardian.
“Rather than making any inquiries of substance as to whether the gambler could afford to gamble to these levels, Ladbrokes encouraged the gambler to open a betting account with it by providing attractive bonus and deposit rebate incentives as an inducement to open a betting account.”
According to the NTRC, Fineff had already sustained multimillion-dollar losses with other bookmakers before he opened an account with Ladbrokes using a pseudonym. It found “the gambler’s true identity was known to and verified by Ladbrokes.”
The judgment, signed by the NTRC chairman, Alastair Shields, found Ladbrokes “appears to have been more focused on realizing its own profits from the gambler rather than ensuring that it was providing a responsible gambling environment.”
“At the very minimum, [Ladbrokes] should have undertaken some form of thorough and rigorous inquiry as to the gambler’s source of wealth,” the NTRC said, as per the cited source. The victims of Fineff’s crimes never got their money back. The $758,510 he lost to Ladbrokes has not been returned.
A spokesperson for Ladbrokes’s parent company Entain accepted the NTRC ruling and said it focused on “interactions between a former customer and a former VIP manager between 2017 and 2019.”
“Entain Australia accepts the NTRC ruling, and since these interactions occurred, it has invested significantly to strengthen its approach to customer protection,” the spokesperson said.
The director of policy and campaigns at Financial Counselling Australia, Lauren Levin, said Ladbrokes “failed its legal and moral duty to protect a customer who was clearly and knowingly at risk.”
Fineff has pleaded guilty to multiple fraud-related offenses in the New South Wales district court and is awaiting sentencing. He lost more than $8 million to sports gambling, with much of that money belonging to friends and clients, some elderly and vulnerable.
According to Levin, the NTRC’s judgment was “the most significant decision of the decade” and could set a precedent for gambling companies being required to investigate whether punters can afford bets before they are accepted.
Shields has previously said the NTRC would welcome the ability to impose tough financial penalties on companies licensed in the territory, which now have an annual turnover of AUD 50 billion.
In a submission to an ongoing parliamentary inquiry, Fineff said he would accept his punishment but wanted to see a change in regulation to stop “destruction continuing.” “All it would have taken is a letter from the online wagering operator requesting proof of funds and affordability,” Fineff wrote in his submission.