Casino PoliticsWestminster’s Gambling Addiction
With a number of MPs accepting salaries and gifts from the gambling industry, Rachel Morris explores how those in power have an uncomfortably close relationship with betting
Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.
Former Labour Leader John Smith described the Conservatives as practicing “casino economics” and turning Britain into a “speculators’ paradise”. This description still seems apt today, with a Cabinet addicted to gambling.
Gambling not with pounds, but with the pound. Gambling with the economy. With housing, health, our collective reputation and future. Gambling with people’s lives. This is the Truss Tombola: it’s all on the table, the stakes have never been higher, but all bets are off.
Yet some in Parliament like gambling in the more traditional sense, too.
76% of the public oppose influence over politicians by the gambling industry, according to a YouGov poll last year commissioned by the Royal Society for Public Health. But in the second half of 2021, 32 MPs from both benches accepted ‘VIP hospitality’ and other benefits offered by the industry. Six were members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Betting and Gaming.
APPGs are obliged to avoid presenting themselves in a way that they could be confused with select committees, but that’s not to say group members keep their interests and powers separate. An APPG is an informal cross-party group, with no official status, run for and by MPs and peers on subjects of shared interest. It’s permitted, even welcomed, for APPGs to include non-parliamentary individuals and organisations in how they operate.
But this set-up gives privileged access and influence to certain people and bodies outside formal structures of power.
The stated purpose of the Betting and Gaming APPG is to “keep in contact with the industry; to discuss with them, and in Parliament, fair gambling, safe gambling and policies towards gambling; to act as a go-between for the industry, Parliament and Government; and to advise Parliament and the Government on gambling-related issues”.
It wrote a report leaked earlier this year condemning regulatory body the Gambling Commission for trying to introduce protective measures.
If you think it’s wrong that group members can accept gifts, you’re in for a disappointment – the rules governing APPGs legitimise benefits-in-kind by acknowledging them openly, so long as members record “in the appropriate Register of Interests… any benefit (such as hospitality, gifts or overseas visits) that comes to them because they are a member”.
An audit by the Guardian last November found that 19 Conservative MPs and nine Labour MPs had accepted close to £225,000 in salaries and gifts from the gambling industry since August 2020.
Take Conservative MP for Shipley, Philip Davies, who was paid nearly £50,000 to advise Entain, the owner of Ladbrokes Coral, on “safer gambling and customer service”. Two of his former political aides had moved on to work for the company. This is the same Philip Davies who, in 2010, criticised firefighters for holding second jobs, saying they “ought to start to live in the real world at a time when many people are grateful to hang on to their one job”.
The current chair of the Betting and Gaming APPG, Conservative Scott Benton, has also accepted gifts in recent years from betting interests while promoting their cause. Indeed, he has written a pro-gambling article sponsored by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), has promoted William Hill, and pushes for Blackpool to be granted a large casino licence.
FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING
Help expose the big scandals of our era.
Another beneficiary of BGC largesse has been Conservative MP Caroline Dinenage, a former minister in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which has overseen a review into gambling laws since 2019.
In July, Government chaos was blamed for delaying a white paper on gambling law reform for a fourth time. An internal boxing match between pro-publication Iain Duncan-Smith and senior Boris Johnson advisors dragged the review to a halt until Johnson’s successor could be installed. Some of these advisors have histories in the gambling industry.
Close to £16 billion has been lost to online gambling since the last general election. Gambling addiction costs lives. The bookmaker Betfred was recently fined nearly £2.9 million for taking tens of thousands of pounds from customers without adequate safety checks, with one gambler losing £70,000 in only 10 hours.
As Byline Times has previously catalogued, there are extensive links between the horse racing industry – the apex of betting culture in Britain – and the Conservative Party.
This appears to be the game: an economy in which big companies and the Government roll the dice on the lives of ordinary people, while those in power take a cut of the proceeds.