Volume: 16 Issue: 2
Birmingham Magistrates Court sentenced Dylan Rigby and Craig Douglas on 6 February 2017 to pay fines and costs after the pair pleaded guilty to being directors of an unlicensed gambling website, FutGalaxy.com, which allowed users, including children, to gamble using virtual currency; the case has been described by the British Gambling Commission’s (‘GC’) Chief Executive, Sarah Harrison, as a “landmark case,” thought to be the first criminal prosecution brought in relation to a video games-related gambling product.
The prosecution brought by the GC centred on the pair’s operation of FutGalaxy.com, a website which allowed users to gamble virtual currency on the results of matches played in the EA Sports video game series FIFA, a game with some appeal to children. The site had no official association with either the video game series or the game developer. Rigby was ordered to pay £174,000 in fines and costs whilst Douglas was ordered to pay £91,000.
District Judge Jack McGarva described footage shown of a 12 year old boy gambling on the website as “horrific” and concluded that children had been gambling on the site, although it was impossible to know how many had done so and what the effect had been on those children. Pete Lewin, Associate at Purewal & Partners, believes that this was an important factor in the GC bringing the case, noting “[the] GC’s actions were not necessarily because the site offered eSports or video game gambling facilities per se, but rather because the site’s video game theme arguably increased the appeal of the site to children.”
“This will undoubtedly be seen as a win for the GC and a warning to other illicit gambling websites of the severity of potential sanctions,” said Alasdair Lamb, Associate at Olswang LLP. This case is of particular note as the area of new and emerging gambling products continues to evolve, with the GC having produced a discussion paper on virtual currencies, eSports and social gaming in August 2016.
In the GC’s press release following the Court ruling, Sarah Harrison stated that “This was one of the most serious cases that has been investigated and prosecuted by the Commission. Its gravity is reflected in the significant financial penalties imposed by the Judge. 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. […] All websites offering gambling facilities in Britain must be licensed; it is the only way in which children and vulnerable people can be protected. This case demonstrates that we will use the full range of our statutory powers to investigate and prosecute individuals and companies who try to operate illegally.”