Thousands of online bettors and gamblers are gripped in fear that they could lose thousands of dollars and pounds, as the suspension of an online bookmaker, 666Bet, continues 3 weeks on. The week before British media broke the story that 666Bet had its Gambling Commission licence suspended after one of its directors, Paul Bell, was arrested at a UK airport in connection with a £21m ($32 million) fraud and money-laundering investigation in the UK.
Bell’s arrest, was made in relation to a multi million dollar fraud and money-laundering investigation which is as part of a multi-jurisdiction investigation launched by the UK’s HM Revenue & Customs, Isle of Man Constabulary, and Cheshire Constabulary and Guernsey Border Agency. He was first arrested at London Heathrow Airport then released but was re-arrested the following day after arriving in the Isle of Man by private jet. He was not the only one arrested, six others were also detained as part of the ongoing investigation, and 13 properties were raided with over £1 million ($1.5 million) in cash seized. According to the UK paper, The Independent, Bell according to an unnamed source, that after his arrest, he “vigorously denied any wrongdoing.” As a direct result of the arrests, Metro Play, who operates the 666BET and Metro Play brands, had their gaming licenses suspended by the United Kingdoms Gambling Commission and the Alderney Gambling Control Commission (AGCC).
The 666Bet website is currently offline; a holding message advises customers that it is performing maintenance. There is no suggestion that Metro Play Ltd, 666Bet or Metro Play, are involved in the HMRC investigation. Right now, bettors and users of the site who try to access 666BET or Metro Play are receiving a maintenance message suggesting the site just be down for a little while for maintenance purposes, but that’s not the case.
It was reported in UK media the eGaming Review that as of right now, bettors of 666Bet are unable to request any withdrawals of their funds, even though the Gambling Commission clearly stated that the licence removal should not prevent money being returned that bettors have in their online accounts. The AGCC has gone as far as issuing a hearing notice to immediately process all fund withdrawal requests.
For a company that just launched in a wave of publicity last June last year, it’s a PR fiasco. 666BET and Metro Play are putting distance between themselves and Bell by adamantly denying that the companies were anyway involved in Bell’s other outside “business interests.” 666Bet’s Head of PR and Brand, Neil Andrews told media, “I can categorically state the [police] investigation does not relate to 666Bets activities in the gaming world.”
According to him, their execs are working to get the site back up in the coming weeks. The online operator, which used former football manager Harry Redknapp in its adverts and has links to two Premier League football clubs, has remained offline and has not paid out any winnings, despite being warned. This is a rare occurrence in the world of online betting. After the suspension, 666Bet told customers it would pay any outstanding withdrawals and balances. However, the last communication from the company was a tweet asking customers to please be patient. Richard Magee, 53, a bettor from Birmingham, has £2,848 deposited with the site. He said: Its really not a very good situation. Ive been quite stressed about it… There has been no information.
Despite being warned, a spokesperson from the Gambling Commission stated that gamblers who use online bookmakers do so at their own risk and ultimately it was not within the regulators remit to recover funds. They continued: While remote operators licensed by the [Gambling] Commission must keep customer funds in a separate account or accounts, there is no guarantee that this will ensure that customers get all their money back if the company runs into financial difficulties.
None of this news bodes well for online gamblers, and could become a tale of warning for investing too much in a service or business that is not 100% regulated. All other bookmakers will keep a close eye on developments to see if there will be any consequences for the wider industry.