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An Easy Wager: Understanding the Gambling Industry's Political Grip

In the aftermath of Fixed Odds Betting Terminal reform in 2018, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced a gambling review in December 2020. The stated aims were to address concerns about problem gambling and to create a fairer industry. It promised an update to regulations created in 2005 before the proliferation of online betting alongside smartphones had put casinos and betting shops in people's pockets, 24 hours a day. Behind the scenes, however, a different story was taking shape.


The gambling industry, led by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), redoubled their lobbying efforts. The logical conclusion of this campaign, and its significant reduction post-publication, is that they hoped to influence the review's outcome in their favour. A deluge of hospitality, lucrative salaries, and a web of connections firmly embedded the gambling industry within the corridors of power. Those with the most staunch public opposition to greater regulation were receiving gifts, hospitality or salary from gambling organisations, creating, at the very least, the perception of undue influence by an industry interwoven in British politics.

According to the register of members' interests, MPs disclosed over £235,000 worth of gifts, hospitality and salary from gambling companies between December 2020 and the publication of the review in April 2023. [1] Whilst only a tiny proportion of the UK gambling industry's £15.1 billion of revenue in the year ending March 2023, this constitutes a more than 200% increase on the three years prior to the announcement of the white paper in December 2020. [21]


Between 2017 and December 2020, £72,500 worth of gifts, hospitality and salary were recorded by MPs. Of this figure, £50,000 was salary paid to Philip Davies by Entain, the owner of Ladbrokes and Coral, in three instalments between August and October 2020. [1] £4,000 of the remaining £22,500 is made up of the first two months of Laurence Robertson MP's annual salary from the BGC. [1] Robertson's salaried position commenced in October 2020, two months before the official announcement of the Government's gambling review, and ended on Jun 30, two months after its publication. There was thus a tenfold increase in the amount of gifts and hospitality declared by MPs from gambling organisations in the period that the gambling review was taking place. In addition to a significant increase in financial outlay, hospitality was spread over significantly more MPs between 2021 and 2023. In this period, 54 MPs disclosed gifts, hospitality or salary from gambling firms, compared to 13 MPs between 2017 and December 2020. [1] Including hospitality from horse racing companies, these numbers rise to 68 MPs since December 2020 compared to 21 MPs between 2017 and 2020. [1]


From May 2023 onwards, hospitality from betting companies had reduced to pre-2020 levels. Since May, 14 MPs have declared hospitality from the BGC worth £27,576. In the equivalent period before the gambling review was published, the BGC provided 47 MPs with over £78,000 worth of hospitality. [1]


The MPs' register of interests thus revealed an explosion in hospitality while the gambling review was being conducted. As mass gatherings gradually returned from the COVID restrictions, gambling firms treated MPs to an array of blockbuster live events. The BGC, the self-styled industry "standards body" established in 2019 to consolidate gambling interests, hosted 5 MPs to an Ed Sheeran concert at a total cost of £4,423. [1] The 2020 Euros tournament, held in 2021 due to COVID, proved an irresistible opportunity for gambling firms to buy access to MPs. Paddy Power hosted 8 MPs at Wembley for England's 2-0 win over Germany, whilst 12 MPs received hospitality worth £3457 per ticket at England's semi-final vs Denmark. [1] That summer, MPs disclosed £93,000 worth of hospitality from gambling firms, including trips to Ascot, Wimbledon and Lord's. [1]


Some MPs benefited more than others. Laurence Robertson, MP for Tewkesbury, disclosed over £69,400 of salary, gifts and hospitality from gambling firms between 2021 and 2023. [1] Including hospitality from the horse racing industry, this number grows to over £78,000. Mr Robertson and his wife received hospitality for all four days of the Cheltenham festival in both 2022 and 2023. [1]  In both years, Robertson was hosted by The Jockey Club (twice in 2022), the BGC, and Sky Bet; in 2023, the gambling giant Flutter Entertainment also hosted the MP, meaning that all four days in 2023 were hosted by separate gambling or horse racing organisations. [1] Such was the strength of the relationship between Robertson and the gambling industry that, in addition to his £24,000 consultant salary, tickets to the 2022 Brit awards and hospitality at numerous sporting events, the BGC hosted a reception to mark his 65th birthday at London's Rialto Casino in March 2023. [1]


There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of Robertson, but there is undeniably a close relationship between the MP and the gambling industry. His public pronouncements are uniformly supportive of and ideologically consistent with gambling interests, and the financial benefit he receives leaves him open to accusations questioning his independence.


Parliamentary colleagues have voiced concerns regarding the influence of gambling firms on MPs, highlighting the flurry of hospitality disclosed since 2020. Lord Foster of Bath, chair of the Peers for Gambling Reform group in the House of Lords, argued that it was "pretty obvious why the industry is giving largess to parliamentarians". [2] He suggests that hospitality and consultancy salaries were an attempt to "influence the outcome (of the gambling review) to the advantage of the gambling companies". [2] SNP MP Ronnie Cowan warned that the proximity between parliament and the gambling industry risked MPs becoming "biased and one-sided in their view", whilst Carolyn Harris MP questioned why "some people take the hospitality time and time again". [3] [4]


Paid consultancy salaries for gambling companies make MPs particularly vulnerable to accusations of improper relationships with gambling lobby groups. Laurence Robertson amended his consultancy agreement with the BGC in October 2021 to "Advisor on Sport and Safer Gambling" – no longer a "Parliamentary Advisor" in the wake of a new code introduced after the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal, barring MPs from providing paid parliamentary advice. [5]


The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner found no evidence of wrongdoing in an investigation into this relationship in May 2023. Still, it is unclear what expertise Mr Robertson provided the BGC beyond his position in parliament. [5] The same can be said for Philip Davies MP, the recipient of £50,000 from Ladbrokes and Coral owner Entain between August and October 2020, for 124 hours of advice regarding customer service and safer gambling. [6] Davies has been forceful in his rebuttal of any suggestion that his independence of thought is compromised by this salary or the c.£14,000 he has received in hospitality from gambling firms since 2021. According to Davies, these do not make "any difference to my opinion on things". [7]


Indeed, there is no evidence to suggest that Mr Davies' public support for the gambling industry is anything other than his personal opinion. However, the return on investment expected by gambling firms from the c. £64,000 spent on Philip Davies since August 2020, or the insights Mr Davies can provide into the customer service or safer gambling experience, beyond his role in the UK's legislative chamber.


[2] The Guardian. Almost £225,000 in wages and freebies taken from gambling industry by 28 MPs [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/nov/15/almost-225000-in-wages-and-freebies-taken-from-gambling-industry-by-28-mps

[3] Tortoise Media. High Stakes [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.tortoisemedia.com/2023/01/11/westminster-accounts-gambling-industry/

[4] The Guardian. Gambling industry increased spending on MPs tenfold in five years, data shows [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/apr/06/gambling-industry-increased-spending-on-mps-tenfold-in-five-years-data-shows

[5] PARLIAMENT.UK. Mr Laurence Robertson MP Not Upheld [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.parliament.uk/globalassets/documents/pcfs/not-upheld/mr-laurence-robertson-mp-not-upheld.pdf

[6] Davies R. Jackpot: How Gambling Conquered Britain. London: Guardian Faber; 2022.

[7] The Telegraph and Argus. Philip Davies MP hits back at extra wage claims and criticism [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/19711643.philip-davies-mp-hits-back-extra-wage-claims-criticism/

[8] The Guardian. Tory MP Scott Benton has whip suspended after newspaper sting [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2023/apr/05/rishi-sunak-facing-calls-suspend-whip-scott-benton

[9] BBC News. MP Scott Benton claims ways around hospitality rules [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-65207681

[10] National World. MPs given gifts by gambling and betting firms repeatedly supported the industry in Parliament [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.nationalworld.com/news/politics/mps-given-gifts-by-gambling-firms-repeatedly-supported-the-industry-in-parliament-3451665

[11] Hansard. UK Casino Industry. Volume 698: Debated on Wednesday Jul 7 2021 [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-07-07/debates/886612E0-B29F-400A-9665-1F95916C58EE/UKCasinoIndustry

[12] The Guardian. MPs to raise concerns over No 10 advisers with links to gambling industry [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/jul/06/mps-to-raise-concerns-over-no-10-advisers-with-links-to-gambling-industry

[13] The Guardian. MPs criticise UK gambling regulator for trying to reduce addiction [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/jan/23/mps-criticise-uk-gambling-regulator-addiction

[14] Coinslot International, Parliamentary Group Report: The Gambling Commission has "gone rogue" and overstepped the bounds of its regulatory remit [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.coinslot.co.uk/2022/01/28/parliamentary-group-report-the-gambling-commission-has-gone-rogue-and-overstepped-the-bounds-of-its-regulatory-remit/

[15] PARLIAMENT.UK. House of Commons Committee on Standards. All-Party Parliamentary Groups: Improving Governance and Regulation [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/22081/documents/163809/default/

[16] Linkedin. Steve Donoghue: Parliamentary All Party Betting and gaming group [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/parliamentary-all-party-betting-gaming-goup-steve-donoughue/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_ios&utm_campaign=share_via 

[17] PoliticsHome. Betting & Gaming Council [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.politicshome.com/members/profile/betting-and-gaming-council?news_pg=1

[18] ConservativeHome. Scott Benton: We are right to reform the UK's gambling laws – but we must not drive punters into the arms of the black market [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://conservativehome.com/2020/12/29/scott-benton-we-conservatives-are-right-to-reform-the-uks-gambling-laws-but-we-must-not-drive-punters-into-the-arms-of-the-illegal-black-market/

[19] National World. Revealed: the full extent of the betting lobby's campaign to influence the Government's gambling white paper [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.nationalworld.com/news/politics/revealed-the-full-extent-of-the-betting-lobbys-campaign-to-influence-the-governments-gambling-white-paper-4096756

[20] The Guardian. Firm behind 'voice of gamblers' group co-owned by betting industry consultant [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/aug/08/firm-behind-voice-of-gamblers-group-co-owned-by-betting-industry-consultant

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