High Court backs William Hill in gambling debt claim

Bookmaker William Hill won a High Court ruling today (12 March) that it did not exploit a punter’s gambling addiction.

Mr Justice Briggs held that although William Hill was negligent in allowing greyhound trainer Graham Calvert to run up debts of over £2m, there was no causation in this case as Calvert would have accrued the gambling loss anyway.

Calvert claimed that William Hill allowed him to open up several accounts, despite the fact he had set up a self-exclusion zone on his accounts. Calvert then ran up gambling debts of £2.1m over a six-month period.

Briggs J said in his judgment: “Standing back for a moment to look at the wood rather than the trees, it is perhaps unsurprising that a negligent failure by a bookmaker in connection with the now officially sanctioned process of self-exclusion failed to cause the problem gambler any measurable loss.

“The conclusion flows in my judgment naturally from the inherently limited effectiveness of self-exclusion as a remedy for the underlying problem.”

Briggs J ultimately concluded in his judgment that the issue was one that was not for the courts.

He said: “The self-exclusion procedure forms a main plank in the social responsibility structure which stands as the quid per quo for the modern policy of the encouragement of gambling as an industry and as a leisure activity. The question whether the limited effectiveness of self-exclusion as a remedy for problem gambling undermines the integrity of that public policy bargain is something for the Gambling Commission and Parliament rather than the courts to decide.”

A spokesman for William Hill commented: “We stated from the outset that we were confident in our case and that there was no manipulated or enticement to bet. The judge found that no general duty of care is owed to problem gamblers and that William Hill’s handling of Mr Calvert’s calls did not cause his loss.”

However, the company confirmed that it would continue to review the implementation of its self-exclusion policy in light of today’s judgement.

Calvert has asked for leave to appeal today’s decision but his legal team, led by Ward Hadawaylitigation partner Peter Hornsey, is still deciding how to proceed.

Calvert was represented in court by Anneliese Day of 4 New Square Chambers.

William Hill was represented by Bernard Caulfield, head of litigation at Dechert, who instructed Justin Fenwick QC of Four New Square as lead counsel and Rebecca Sabben-Clare of 7 King’s Bench Walk.

The case was heard in the Royal Courts of Justice in London.