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There has been a surge in the amount of fines dished out to gambling companies at the same time as they have poured huge amounts into corporate hospitality for MPs, Byline Times analysis can reveal.
According to analysis of official figures, betting firms have received 31,500% more in financial penalties in the last three years than they did during the same period of time a decade ago.
Since the start of 2020, rulings from the Gambling Commission, the industry regulator, show that the industry was hit with over £138m in fines and other penalties.
In that same period ten years ago (2010-2013), the Commission handed out just under £438,000 in penalties to those same companies.
The data, sourced from the Violation Tracker UK website, combined with a recent government White Paper promising more regulation of the industry has campaigners hopeful of a move towards wider regulation of the gambling sector.
Friends in High Places
However, as fines for the industry hit a record high, the gambling industry’s lobbying arms have allowed it to “become one of the best connected sectors in Westminster”.
One of the biggest recent penalties went to Entain, which runs Ladbrokes and Coral. It was forced to pay a then record £17m penalty for multiple “social responsibility and anti-money laundering failures” by the Gambling Commission in 2022. In March this year, William Hill had to pay a new record total of £19.2m in fines for what the Commission described as similar “widespread and alarming” failures.
In the same period that fines to betting firms skyrocketed, there has been a growing number of scandals surrounding alleged lobbying by the industry.
One analysis by The Guardian found that gambling companies and lobbyists have increased the amount they spend on MPs by tenfold in five years, with one MP saying that “if you go to the bar [in Parliament], you will probably see somebody from that industry, and they’re buying people drinks”.
A recent investigation found that the Gamblers Consumer Forum, that was supposed to represent the voice of gamblers and has attacked proposed reforms to the industry, was co-owned by a former Conservative staffer and council candidate as well as a betting industry consultant.
It followed accusations of “astroturfing” – giving the false impression of a grassroots campaign – levelled at another industry group, The Players’ Panel, which claimed to represent the views of “the 99% of people in the UK who bet enjoyably, safely and responsibly”, but which was funded by Ladbrokes-owner Entain.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, the director of Clean Up Gambling, previously accused the BGC of using “every trick in the book in an attempt to stifle reform”.
“The BGC avoided engaging in a sophisticated policy debate, reducing their position to soundbites and their strategy to increasing MP hospitality spend by a factor of 10″, he added.
In April the government released a new, and long-awaited White Paper outlining proposed reforms to the gambling industry.
It included plans for a statutory levy of an estimated £150m to pay for addiction research, education and treatment, limits for the amount you can bet in online slots and independent affordability checks to ensure there are interventions for those losing more than they can afford.
It fell short of proposing wider reforms to the advertising and promotion of the gambling industry (which firms spend upwards of a billion pounds on a year), a reform many groups had campaigned for – even to the extent of pressuring the Premier League into agreeing to ban front-of-shirt gambling sponsors from the 2026/27 season.
A Business Model Based on Addiction
Campaigners Byline Times spoke to felt there was still progress that needed to be made.
“The increase in fines is concerning but not surprising, given that the online gambling industry’s business model is based on addiction. Fines have become a cost of doing business as it’s far cheaper to pay them than it is to change”, said Will Prochaska, strategy director of campaign group Gambling with Lives.
“Neither will the measures in the government’s White Paper be enough to stop the industry’s predatory practices, and we expect a further increase in regulatory action against operators as they push the boundaries of the new rules once they are brought in.”
Both Zarb-Cousin and Prochaska called on the Gambling Commission to consider rescinding operating licences for firms that are repeat offenders.
But concerns were expressed as to whether the ongoing lobbying campaign of the gambling industry could halt these changes.
Zarb-Cousin cited proposals for properly regulated ‘affordability checks’ that he said the industry had “already started mobilising against”.
“It of course remains to be seen if their efforts will amount to stifling reforms that protect consumers in favour of protecting their profits”, he added.
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A spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council, said: “Around 22.5 million UK adults enjoy a bet each month and according to the independent regulator the Gambling Commission, the rates of problem gambling among UK adults is 0.3 per cent, which is low by international standards.
“The regulated betting and gaming industry in the UK contributes £7.1bn to the economy, generates £4.2bn in taxes and supports 110,000 jobs across the country.
“We worked closely with the government to help deliver a wide-ranging package of reforms in the White Paper which build on the significant changes and improvements already made in recent years by our members.
“We want to see balanced, proportionate and effective reforms that are evidence-led, further protect vulnerable and young people – whilst not spoiling the enjoyment of the overwhelming majority who bet perfectly safely and responsibly.
“Any hospitality is consistent with the parliamentary rules and is fully declared and transparent”.
A Gambling Commission spokesperson said: “In the last two years we have taken unprecedented action against gambling operators, but we are now starting to see signs of improvement. There are indications that the industry is doing more to make gambling safer and reducing the possibility of criminal funds entering their businesses.
“Operators are using algorithms to spot gambling harms or criminal risk more quickly, interacting with consumers sooner, and generally having more effective policies and procedures in place.”
The figures used by Byline Times differ from those on the Gambling Commission website as they include a wider range of financial penalties used by the regulator.