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Embedded: The Gambling Industry in British Politics

Steve Donoughue's role is emblematic of a wider relationship between British politics and the gambling industry, making it one of the best-connected sectors in Westminster. Before the white paper was published, Carolyn Harris MP warned, "If you go to the bar [in parliament], you will probably see someone from that industry, and they're buying people drinks".[4] The gambling lobby was ever-present in Westminster and bolstered by a revolving door between politics and the gambling industry.

The BGC, for example, has the former Labour MP and shadow Secretary of State at DCMS Michael Dugher as CEO, veteran lobbyist Brigid Simmons, who was involved in the original Gambling Act in 2005, as Chairman, and hired the former editor of PoliticsHome Kevin Schofield to run its communication strategy.[6] Schofield joined the BGC in February 2020, and his arrival coincided with PoliticsHome hosting several articles written by BGC staffers or MPs on their behalf. Labelled as "partner content", these have included contributions by MPs John Spellar, Laurence Robertson and Grahame Morris, all of which emphasised the positive economic impact of the gambling industry.[17] BGC-sponsored posts have not been limited to PoliticsHome; others have included an article by Scott Benton in Conservative Home warning against "driving punters into the arms of the black market".[18]

The political connections of leading figures in the gambling industry have helped industry figures gain access to the corridors of power. Records of ministers' meetings show that BGC staff and DCMS officials met at least seven times between October and December 2020 alone, either side of the gambling review being announced.[6] Since January 2020, gambling organisations, including the BGC, have held more meetings with government ministers than the Gambling Commission, despite the latter being the official independent regulatory body.[19]

This access reflects the number of former political figures in the gambling industry. A recent investigation found that the Gamblers Consumer Forum, a group which claims to represent the voice of gamblers and attacked the gambling review's proposed reforms, was co-owned by Andrew Woodman, a former staffer to the controversial Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, Abbie MacGregor, a former Conservative council candidate and parliamentary researcher to two MPs, and the Secretariat to the now-disbanded APPG on Betting and Gaming, Steve Donoughue.[20] Likewise, Entain, who paid Philip Davies a salary, had two of his former staff members in significant positions within the organisation. Entain's head of safer gambling and external affairs, Sophie Dean, worked for the Shipley MP from at least 2013-18, whilst their chief of corporate affairs, Grainne Hurst, worked as a parliamentary researcher for Davies between 2010 and 2012.[20] Whilst Davies' contract included a "no lobbying clause", MPs can have a significant impact on the passage of legislation. As sports minister, Tracey Crouch MP believed that pro-gambling MPs had been instrumental in securing a delay to the policy of restricting FOBT stakes.[6] According to Crouch, it was after a meeting with Philip Davies that Secretary of State at DCMS Jeremy Wright advocated delaying change from April to October 2019.[6]

The gambling industry thus further embedded itself within politics while the Government's landmark review was being produced, entrenching its position as one of the best-connected industries in Westminster. The avalanche of gifts, hospitality and salary in this period, and the evident reduction since, show clearly that it was a central part of a strategy designed to influence the outcome of the gambling review.

There is a critical need to get answers from those with political and public influence who have accepted hospitality from the industry. We must learn lessons from the past, where lobbying has undermined public health issues and therefore demand more from MPs and the system to avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest of this kind. 


[2] The Guardian. Almost £225,000 in wages and freebies taken from gambling industry by 28 MPs [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from:

[3] Tortoise Media. High Stakes [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from:

[4] The Guardian. Gambling industry increased spending on MPs tenfold in five years, data shows [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from:

[5] PARLIAMENT.UK. Mr Laurence Robertson MP Not Upheld [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from:

[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:

[8] The Guardian. Tory MP Scott Benton has whip suspended after newspaper sting [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from:

[9] BBC News. MP Scott Benton claims ways around hospitality rules [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from:

[10] National World. MPs given gifts by gambling and betting firms repeatedly supported the industry in Parliament [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from:

[11] Hansard. UK Casino Industry. Volume 698: Debated on Wednesday Jul 7 2021 [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from:

[12] The Guardian. MPs to raise concerns over No 10 advisers with links to gambling industry [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from:

[13] The Guardian. MPs criticise UK gambling regulator for trying to reduce addiction [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from:

[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:

[15] PARLIAMENT.UK. House of Commons Committee on Standards. All-Party Parliamentary Groups: Improving Governance and Regulation [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from:

[16] Linkedin. Steve Donoghue: Parliamentary All Party Betting and gaming group [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from: 

[17] PoliticsHome. Betting & Gaming Council [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from:

[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:

[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:

[20] The Guardian. Firm behind 'voice of gamblers' group co-owned by betting industry consultant [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 15]. Available from:


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