Gambling boss gave £50,000 donation to the Labour Party

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Indy Politics

The director of one of Britain's biggest online betting companies gave £50,000 to Labour while the Government was drafting final proposals to reform the gambling industry.

The director of one of Britain's biggest online betting companies gave £50,000 to Labour while the Government was drafting final proposals to reform the gambling industry.

Peter Coates, a director of the internet gambling company Bet365.com, gave the cash to the party in July. His donation was revealed in figures from the Electoral Commission yesterday. Mr Coates, a lifelong Labour supporter, is also a shareholder in Lindley catering investments which has contracts at football grounds planning to build casinos.

The caterer, which Mr Coates founded in 1968 but has now sold, has contracts with more than 30 clubs including Manchester City, Sheffield United and Hull City. The deals could open lucrative business opportunities for the UK's largest stadium catering firm which has contracts throughout the leisure industry.

Mr Coates' online bettting company, 365.com, is among the biggest internet gambling sites in the UK. It has an offshore casino arm which allows punters to play poker and other games online. Last night he insisted his cash gift to Labour had nothing to do with the Gambling Bill which would regulate online betting firms. But the timing will fuel speculation about the influence of gambling tycoons on the Government.

Ministers have already come under fire for links with American casino firms which have lobbied the Government about the level of gambling tax and EU proposals to combat money laundering. Mr Coates' donation, listed in the electoral commission's publication of Labour donors in 2004, was made on 18 July, three months before the Gambling Bill was published.

Mr Coates, who has made substantial cash gifts to Labour before, said he had not given the money because of the Gambling Bill; he was "a long-standing supporter of the Labour Party" and had been "a member for years". He said: "I have been supporting the Labour Party all my adult life. I believe in the party's values and I shall go on supporting the Labour Party. It has nothing whatever to do with any gambling bill. The Gambling Bill has little or no interest for us."

Mr Coates said he thought the proposals to allow super-casinos around Britain would not "do any great harm to the moral fabric" of the country although he acknowledged that "a more cautious approach" to establishing big Las Vegas-style casinos in Britain might be needed.

Last night the Labour Party denied Mr Coates had met officials or ministers about the Bill. "No donation to the Labour Party will give the donor any influence over party or government policy," a Labour spokes- man said. "Mr Coates has never sought to influence policy as a result of any donation."

The published list of donations also shows Labour received £17,000 from the PR and lobbying firm Weber Shandwick run by Colin Byrne a former Labour chief press officer. But 80 per cent of Labour's donations came from trades unions. Liam Fox, the Tory co-chairman, said "the unions' grip on Labour is already tight and going to get tighter".

The Liberal Democrats were given £5,000 by the lingerie firm La Senza.

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