Continuing the mainstream media’s scrutiny of the UK gambling industry, the Daily Mail has reported that gambling firms gave UK MPs more than £100,000 ($136,300) worth of freebies between June and December 2021.
attempting to ‘buy friends in Parliament’
The report, published on Monday, said that many believe sportsbook operators are attempting to ‘buy friends in Parliament’ as a bulwark against imminent gaming law reform. UK non-profit campaign Clean Up Gambling took to Twitter to highlight the freebie haul going to Tory MP Laurence Robertson:
UK trade body, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), currently pays Robertson £2,000 ($2,723) per month for his work as an advisor on sport and safer betting. According to the Daily Mail, Robertson and Tory MP David Warburton also recently accepted tickets to the BRIT Awards worth a combined £3,492 ($4,755).
Robertson was also one of 12 MPs given free tickets by Entain to attend the UEFA European Football Championship (EURO) 2020 semi-final at Wembley last year. According to media reports, two of the 12 MPs, Robertson and fellow Tory Scott Benton, had spoken against gambling industry curbs in a Parliament debate just hours earlier.
According to the Daily Mail, during the same Commons debate, Labour MP John Spellar also argued the case against reform. Spellar received hospitality tickets from Power Leisure Bookmakers worth £1,961 ($2,670) for the England v Germany EURO 2020 soccer match. Spellar also pocketed tickets worth £874 ($1,189) for the England cricket team’s Test match against India, courtesy of the BGC.
free tickets worth thousands of pounds from the BGC
In addition to the soccer freebie, Robertson enjoyed free tickets worth thousands of pounds from the BGC, SkyBet, Entain, and Coral to watch cricket at Lord’s, along with horse racing at Ascot, Doncaster, Sandown, and York,
Political reporter for the Times, George Grylls, took to Twitter last week to share private letters Robertson sent to ministers to lobby support for the industry:
At the same time they were accepting freebies from operators, Robertson, Benton, and Spellar were among the six ministers on the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on betting and gaming.
In 2019, Entain paid almost £50,000 ($68,014) to another APPG member, MP Philip Davies, to advise on safer gambling. Last summer, Davies also accepted around £8,500 ($11,572) in tickets from betting operators. Both Davies and Robertson have left the APPG since the report.
Late last year, the UK press, including The Guardian and The Times, singled out MPs benefitting from their associations with betting firms, and currying favor for the gambling industry in Parliament. As the government white paper on gambling reform looms, this latest report comes at an inopportune time for the sector.
derives the majority of its profits from people experiencing harm.”
Director of Clean Up Gambling, Matt Zarb-Cousin — who once said “far too many MPs have had their snouts in the gambling trough” — fired another broadside, as cited by the Mail on Monday. “This is a case of how to buy a few friends in Parliament and alienate everyone else. Legislators should think twice about accepting hospitality from a sector that derives the majority of its profits from people experiencing harm.”
A BGC spokesperson responded to the reports, asserting: “Any hospitality is consistent with the parliamentary rules and is fully declared and transparent.”