Bet365 faces probe by Australia’s anti-money laundering watchdog

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Britain’s Bet365 has become the latest betting company to come under scrutiny from Australia’s financial crimes watchdog over whether it was in compliance with the country’s anti-money laundering laws.

The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, or Austrac, said it was launching a formal investigation into Bet365, which is one of the larger gambling groups in the Australian market but has struggled to gain market share in recent years.

The watchdog, which issued a A$1.3bn (US$860mn) fine against bank Westpac over compliance issues in 2020, has been targeting the gambling sector lately, including the country’s casinos and gaming companies, as part of a crackdown on potential avenues for criminals to launder money. It said betting companies had a significant role to play in combating financial crime. 

Austrac chief Brendan Thomas said:​ “Corporate bookmakers must have robust systems in place to ensure they can manage and mitigate risks associated with money laundering and terrorism financing. Businesses without adequate processes in place to manage those risks leave themselves vulnerable to exploitation by criminals.” 

Before its latest action, Austrac had ordered Hillside (Australia New Media), Bet365’s local operation, to appoint external auditors in 2022 — at its own cost — in what it said was a move to put the industry on notice about the need to protect the integrity of Australia’s financial system. 

Bet365, whose chief executive Denise Coates earned almost £300mn in pay and dividends last year, declined to comment.

Austrac opened an investigation into Ladbrokes owner Entain in 2022 over compliance with anti-money laundering.

Charles Livingstone, an associate professor at Monash University, said it was clear that criminals washed “substantial amounts of money” through Australian bookmakers, hiding them among billions of transactions made every year.

“Gambling has been an obvious avenue for crooks to launder their funds quite effectively,” he said. He explained that criminal syndicates can spread dirty cash across different accounts and companies to avoid detection.

Livingstone said action against the country’s casino sector had put it in a “diabolical” financial state. The investigations there had led to more focus on the betting industry and whether more enforcement was needed, he added. 

There has been growing public pressure on Australia’s regulators and politicians to tackle the power of the country’s gambling industry, after what Livingstone called “a lot of false dawns” over the past three decades.

Michelle Rowland, the communications minister, told broadcaster ABC on Thursday that the government was looking “very carefully” at whether to ban gambling advertising in the country, noting that Australia had the world’s highest gambling losses a head.