UKGC Investigates Gambling Company Alleged Exploitation of Cancer Patient

An investigation by the UK Gambling Commission is underway concerning the actions of high street slot machine operator Merkur, following allegations of exploiting a vulnerable customer. This development has cast a shadow over the company’s expansion drive in the UK.

Merkur Under Investigation After Vulnerable Customer Suffers Significant Losses at Stockport branch

Merkur, a German-owned company, operates a substantial network of adult gaming centers across the UK, providing venues where customers can engage in £2-a-spin slot machine games, which have become increasingly popular, often operating 24 hours a day.

Under the ownership of Germany’s Gauselmann Group, Merkur currently operates 228 sites across the UK, positioning it as the second-largest player in the industry, trailing behind Admiral Slots, owned by the Austrian gaming company Novomatic.

The investigation stems from an incident brought to light by The Guardian in March, involving a 64-year-old lung cancer patient, Wendy Hughes, who reportedly lost over £2,000 ($2,525) within 16 hours across two days of play at Merkur’s Stockport branch

Shockingly, staff allegedly facilitated her continued play, even reserving her favorite slot machine as she left to withdraw more money at midnight, despite her fragile physical condition.

Merkur has placed the blame on the branch staff, insisting that the necessary customer protection measures mandated by regulators were adequately implemented.

Merkur Sees Revenue Growth Amidst Probe, but Faces Operational Challenges

Despite the ongoing investigation, Merkur reported a revenue increase of 17% to £202 million ($255 million) last year, as part of its UK expansion project. However, the company faced losses exceeding £9 million ($11.4 million) over the past two years due to investments in expansion. 

Merkur emphasized its commitment to ensuring safe gambling environments for customers, acknowledging societal concerns regarding the industry’s practices.

This news regarding the investigation has surfaced amidst Merkur’s recent setbacks, including the withdrawal of an application for a new premises in Sheffield due to local opposition. Furthermore, the UK government’s proposal to relax regulations on high street slots, allowing a higher proportion of £2-a-spin machines, may impact the company’s operations.

Other recent news also saw the Gauselmann Group, an international gaming group, rebranding as Merkur Group at the beginning of January to establish a new brand identity, effective January 1. Despite the change, the presence of the Gauselmann Family Foundation remains unaffected, ensuring continuity and stability in the company’s philosophy, according to Paul Gauselmann, founder and chair of the management board.