MPs who defended betting machines in Commons debate have received thousands in gifts from bookmakers

Exclusive: Both Conservative and Labour MPs received hospitality from the gambling industry 

Tom Embury-Dennis
Saturday 25 November 2017 20:02 GMT
Philip Davies has registered receiving £4,354 in tickets and hospitality since March
Philip Davies has registered receiving £4,354 in tickets and hospitality since March

A number of MPs who stood up in Parliament to defend betting machines called the “crack cocaine of gamblingby campaigners have received a series of gifts from bookmakers.

Philip Davies accused the Government of “playing to the gallery” after it announced the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) will be cut.

But The Independent can reveal the Conservative MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire, has received more than £4,000 in gifts from bookmakers in the past nine months.

His Tory colleague Laurence Robertson has also accepted over £3,000 worth of hospitality from bookmakers, while Labour MP Conor McGinn received a ticket and hospitality at Cheltenham worth £350 from Ladbrokes in March.

FOBTs allow gamblers to bet up to £300 a minute and are a huge source of profit for bookmakers, with around 34,000 terminals operating in betting shops around the UK.

The revelation that Mr Davies has been given tickets to sporting events worth thousands by Coral, Ladbrokes, William Hill and Sky Bet since the Government launched a gaming-machines review in October 2016 will spark fears of a potential conflict of interest.

Mr Davies pointed out he had complied entirely with Parliamentary rules and insisted the gifts had in no way influenced his statements in the Commons. There is no suggestion that any of the MPs have broken any rules.

The MP, who was previously employed by a pair of bookmakers, registered the fact that he has received £4,354 in tickets and hospitality since March, including four tickets to Cheltenham Races worth £1,300. The most recent gift, two tickets to York Races courtesy of Ladbrokes, was received as recently as 14 October.

In 2016 he registered £2,745 in hospitality from two bookmakers, and in 2015 a further £904.

After Tracey Crouch, minister at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, announced in the Commons that maximum bets on fixed-odds machines would be reduced, Mr Davies defended the games, saying there were much higher levels of problem gambling elsewhere.

UK: Campaign calls for urgent gambling reform

“Over the summer, the Gambling Commission published its report on problem gambling. It found that the highest levels of problem gambling were in spread betting, followed by betting through a betting exchange, then playing poker in pubs or clubs, then betting online on events other than sports or horse or greyhound-racing, and only then by playing gaming machines in bookmakers,” he said.

“Those much higher levels of problem gambling all come with unlimited stakes and unlimited potential winnings. If the Government are so obsessed with evidence, why are they focusing so much on betting machines in bookmakers? Or are they just playing to the gallery, which most of us know this is really all about?”

Mr Robertson, who has accepted £3,050 in hospitality from bookmakers since March, also weighed in on the issue.

Cautioning the Government against “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” in its push to further regulate the gambling industry, he said: “I am a little bit concerned by the minister’s suggestion that bookmakers might be able to transfer bets to racing from FOBTs.

“I do not think there is any evidence that that would happen, although I very much hope that it would. I stress the importance to horse-racing of the support of bookmakers.”

Mr Robertson told The Independent that since Cheltenham racecourse is in his Tewkesbury constituency, he takes a “deep interest” in the betting industry.

“I therefore receive hospitality from time to time from bookmakers, but also from racecourses, other racing bodies, media companies and others,” he said. “It is, of course, fully declared and has been received by me for 20 years.”

They were joined in the debate by Labour MP Conor McGinn, who received a ticket and hospitality to Cheltenham worth £350 from Ladbrokes in March.

Mr McGinn, who referred members to his entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests before speaking in the House, urged the Government to “protect jobs, investment and economic benefits” that the betting industry brought to his St Helens constituency. He did not respond to repeated requests from The Independent for comment.

As of September, sports and betting companies had made a third of all donations to MPs since 2016.

Tom Watson, Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Media and Sport and Labour’s deputy leader, accused the Government of a “deeply disappointing” lack of action to “counter the well-known problems with FOBTs”.

It has emerged that Mr Watson received £25,000 in 2014 from millionaire former poker player Derek Webb, who funds the Stop the FOBTs campaign.

Mr Watson has been contacted by The Independent for comment.

FOBTs, which are described as highly addictive by campaigners, allow gamblers to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds.

They were worth £1.82bn to the industry in the last year alone and make up more than half of revenues in betting shops, according to the Gambling Commission.

It has been predicted that Ladbrokes Coral, the parent company of the two high-street bookmakers, will lose £449m in revenues in 2018 if the Government restricts the size of stakes to £2.

According to industry-funded research, half of the nation’s bookmakers would close, causing 20,000 job losses, if new rules limiting stakes on FOBTs to £2 were introduced.

Mr Davies told The Independent: “In statements and oral questions, any register of interests don’t need to be mentioned in the House – only in debates. This is set out quite clearly in the rules as questions are supposed to be snappy.

“My views on this issue have never changed. My parents owned their own betting shop. I was brought up with them and I’m one of the only people in Parliament who knows what they’re talking about on the subject.”

UK: Campaign calls for urgent gambling reform

A document leaked prior to the 31 October debate and obtained by The Guardian revealed that a number of questions were drafted for MPs to push arguments made by lobbyists for the bookmakers.

According to the newspaper many of the questions made their way into the session.

Labour MP David Lammy told The Independent: “I have been campaigning against FOBTs for many years now, and everyone who has been involved in this campaign is well aware that the gambling lobby is a very powerful and well-resourced organisation.

“It is an open secret that the gambling lobby has friends in Parliament who defend FOBTs and help to protect the interests and profits of gambling companies.

“The huge damage caused by these machines has been tolerated for far too long, aided and abetted by this lobbying by the industry and by friendly MPs.”

Ladbrokes Coral defended the handing of gifts to MPs and accused opponents of the betting industry of a “McCarthyism type campaign” against its supporters.

A spokesperson told The Independent: “Ladbrokes Coral invite many MPs to both sporting events and to visit shops in their constituencies to talk about the importance of the industry in supporting sport, jobs and the Exchequer.

“We employ over 25,000 people, have shops in nearly every constituency and decisions taken in Parliament can have a serious impact on the lives of our employees so of course we engage with MPs.

“The register of interests is there to make that process open and transparent but still opponents are using this and social media to run a McCarthyism type campaign against people who support bookmakers and the jobs they provide.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in