By Greg Mason
On 6 February 2017, in the first successful prosecution of its kind by the GB Gambling Commission, Craig Douglas (33) and Dylan Rigby (34) pleaded guilty to offences under the Gambling Act 2005 relating to unlicensed eSports gambling.
Douglas, a prominent eSports YouTuber known as “NepentheZ”, was fined £91,000 for advertising unlawful gambling and inviting children to gamble. His business partner, Rigby, was ordered to pay £174,000 in fines and costs for offences relating to the provision of facilities for gambling and the advertising of unlawful gambling.
The pair admitted to being directors of Game Gold Tradings Limited which operated and advertised the unlicensed gambling website FutGalaxy.com.
FutGalaxy.com, which has no official connection with the FIFA series of games or EA Sports, allowed customers to buy virtual currency known as “FUT coins”. These FUT coins could then be used to gamble (on products including sports betting, a jackpot lottery style game and a higher or lower style game) and could even be converted into FIFA coins which could be sold for real money via an unauthorised secondary market.
In this case, the lack of child protection was particularly concerning. The District Judge, DJ McGarva, labelled the offences as “very grave” given that there were no restrictions on young persons from accessing the website and placing bets. Sarah Harrison, CEO of the GB Gambling Commission, noted that “the defendants knew that the site was used by children and that their conduct was illegal but they turned a blind eye in order to achieve substantial profits. The effect on children of online gambling was rightly described by the Court as ‘horrific’ and ‘serious’“.
Given the gravity and nature of offending, it is perhaps surprising that the Court did not impose a custodial sentence and instead opted for a relatively small financial penalty. Previous voluntary settlements with the GB Gambling Commission relating to failures in AML compliance and social responsibility controls resulted in significant financial penalties.
With eSports and eSports gambling becoming a growing global trend, it is attracting greater attention from regulators. The GB Gambling Commission is currently undertaking a discussion paper on emerging products in the gambling market, including betting on eSports events. The GB Gambling Commission’s current guidance states that “betting on eSports should be treated no differently as betting on any other live event… if you wish to offer bets to GB consumers on eSports events then you will need a betting licence. The types of betting offered and how you offer them will determine the licence required.”
For further information from the GB Gambling Commission in relation to eSports, please visit: http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/for-gambling-businesses/Compliance/Sector-specific-compliance/Betting/e-Sports.aspx.