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, 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 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.

Charlie Munger takes a swipe at crypto

Charlie Munger, the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett’s trusty sidekick, took a shot at the world of cryptocurrencies in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, calling for a ban on all things digital and decentralised.

The 99-year-old billionaire compared the crypto industry to a wild and woolly carnival ride, with little regulation and a lot of speculation.

He compared it to mining, where salesmanship is often key to convincing investors to finance digging for precious metals that may not exist.

He called crypto a “gambling contract with a nearly 100% edge for the house,” and suggested the US take a cue from China and put a stop to the madness.

Munger has never been a fan of the crypto world and has been vocal about his dislike for it in the past.

He has compared it to rat poison, a venereal disease, and even an open sewer.

He once stated that he wouldn’t want a crypto executive to marry into his family.

It seems like Munger and crypto are just not meant to be.

Will Chau’s downfall bring Macau to its knees?

Two weeks ago, we mentioned in Hot Copy that gambling promoter Alvin Chau was sentenced to 18 years in the slammer in Macau for charges including illegal gambling, fraud, and involvement in organised crime.

The court ruled in favour of the prosecutors on most charges, but acquitted Chau of money laundering.

The Financial Times argued this week that Chau’s downfall augurs change for Macau’s gambling industry.

“[With the trial] you have a portrait of how Macau gaming actually worked . . . Macau has always been a washing machine” but the case exposes the extent of it, the FT quoted Jorge Menezes, a Macau-based lawyer.

Chau’s illegal empire was found to have had a turnover of $105bn between March 2013 and March 2021.

According to the article, the size of Chau’s “business” reflects the fact that Chinese elite have typically used junkets to channel vast amounts of money out of the country, which enforces strict capital controls.

Moreover, casino executives described the estimate of Chau’s illegal gambling turnover outlined in the judgment as “conservative” and said Chau’s ability to attract the mainland elite to Macau was unmatched in the industry. “You could not avoid dealing with him,” one said.

Chau’s downfall — driven by Beijing’s determination to crush the escape of elite capital through Macau — is set to change the gambling business in the territory, as it would be a challenge to replace the loss of earnings from elite high rollers with mass market or non-gaming revenue.

Show your cards on player safety

The Times reported that British-based gambling companies operating in the US have been asked to let outside experts peek at their safeguards for vulnerable players after receiving criticism for a lack of transparency.

FanDuel, owned by Flutter Entertainment, BetMGM, part-owned by Entain, and DraftKings, are among the companies being questioned about their protection measures for online casino players.

The US National Council on Problem Gambling is curious why these companies have not committed to a third-party assessment and is asking the question: “What are they hiding?”

With digital casino games like poker now available in seven US states, the National Council has evaluated each state’s regulations and found four states – Delaware, Michigan, Nevada and West Virginia – falling short of the minimum standards advised by the council.

The National Council wants iGaming operators to show they meet strict standards, such as those adopted by New Jersey, in all states.

FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM were quick to assure that they adhere to all customer protection and responsible gaming standards in each market they operate in.

But the National Council isn’t convinced: “If they are doing it, it would be very easy to be able to show people,” Keith Whyte, executive director of the industry-funded council, said. “But they don’t,” he added.

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for

It has been impossible to ignore the hype surrounding AI technology in 2023, most of which has been driven by the accessibility – and capabilities – of OpenAI’s ChatGPT software.

The rise in prominence of AI has left many of us – rightly or wrongly – absolutely convinced that the robot revolution is coming, and sooner rather than later.

Many fear sizeable job losses for us mere human beings, and many are right to. But this may not occur at the hands of a power-hungry droid army, despite what Hollywood would have you believe.

For example, Microsoft this week became the latest top-tier tech company to lay off thousands of staff – 10,000 to be precise – according to the New York Times.

This is not because Microsoft offered ChatGPT £26,000 a year to do their jobs for them, but because the company has decided to pivot to more pressing priorities, including investing heavily in AI.

The newspaper said Microsoft and its technology peers had responded to surging customer demand in recent years by “essentially hoarding” technical staff. But with inflation now squeezing budgets, lay-offs have become a necessity for most large-scale companies.

“The reality is you can adjust hiring very quickly, and that is what is going on,” Stifel analyst Brad Reback told the New York Times. “I don’t think this is symptomatic of a bigger issue.”

So there we have it. Brad doesn’t see the robots taking over as a big issue, and neither should you – for now at least.

Macau’s gambling king to swap junkets for jail

Macau gambling bigwig Alvin Chau was sentenced to 18 years in prison for more than 100 charges including organised crime and illegal gaming this week.

BBC News was one of many outlets to report on the development, which saw Chau found guilty in a case that focused on illegal bets in excess of HK$823.7bn, or £85.7bn – so not exactly pocket change.

Chau, who was the chairman and founder of operator Suncity Group, had denied the charges. It was Macau’s biggest operator of junkets, which are organised trips for the wealthy to land-based casinos.

The business arranged for big spenders from China to travel to Macau and gamble in the city’s casinos, where it was legal, and even offered loans to them. It also collected debts for casinos and operated VIP rooms.

Prosecutors accused Chau of leading a criminal syndicate that worked as a middle man for undeclared bets, which allegedly lost the government more than HK$8.26bn in tax income.

The court ruled in favour of the prosecutors on most charges, but acquitted Chau of money laundering. As gamblers well know, you win some and you lose some.

Quit horsing around

ITV News this week reported on a new study that is searching for participants to assess the effect of the drug ketamine and its impact on gambling addiction.

University of Exeter researchers are trying to find out whether ketamine’s effect on human memory can be used to break down the positive reinforcement associated with gambling addiction, while also preventing the urge to gamble.

The study will be conducted by a professor of psychopharmacology to examine both the benefits and side effects of recreational drug use on cognition, mental health and neurobiology.

It will be the first study in the world of its kind, although magic mushrooms have often been analysed in similar circumstances to explore their effect on different neuro conditions.

The experiment will assess people’s memory of money and determine whether those memories can be altered by giving a low dose of ketamine.

Ketamine is an anaesthetic drug that blocks a receptor involved in learning and memory. It is a Class B illegal drug in the UK, but has previously been used to treat both pain and depression, and is even more well known for anesthetising horses.

If this sort of thing sounds right up your alley, you must gamble regularly and be at least 18 years old to participate.