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Questions abound as bookies raise expenditure on British MPs

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TWO of the UK’s biggest bookmakers raised the amounts spent on entertaining MPs as the government continues to be put under pressure to take action against the gambling industry.

William Hill and Ladbrokes Coral have spent £18,018 on hospitality for 12 MPs since the start of 2016, according to the parliamentary register of members’ interests.

The expenditure is a significant increase in the amounts spent in previous years. In contrast, the companies spent just £2,004 in 2015, £2,800 in 2014 and £3,300 in 2013, but it is the timing around the spike in spending has raised eyebrows.

Almost 40 percent of the spending came in the eight months since the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) launched a review into the bookmaking industry, which is expected to recommend restrictions to gambling machines known as fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

These machines, which campaigners describe as highly addictive, allow gamblers to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds.

If restrictions were to be placed on this machines, both bookmakers would stand to lose a significant amount of money.

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FOBTs were worth £1.82bn to the industry in the year to September 2016 and account for 56 percent of revenues at betting shops, according to the Gambling Commission.

In a research note conducted in April of this year, Barclays forecast that Ladbrokes Coral would lose £449m in revenues from FOBTs in 2018, and William Hill £284m, if MPs restrict the size of the stake to £2.

The two men that have benefited the most from the generosity of the bookies are Conservative MPs, Philip Davies and Laurence Robertson.

Since 2013, both men have consistently recorded hospitality and gifts from Ladbrokes and Coral — which merged as a corporate entity in 2016, though operate as separate brands — and William Hill.

Mr Davies registered receiving £5,617 in tickets and hospitality from Ladbrokes, Coral and William Hill in 2016/17 including tickets to the Cheltenham races worth £1,200. In 2015, he registered just £904 in hospitality from the two bookmakers.

Mr Davies defended his actions, stating that his role implores him to “engage with the betting industry”.

He“My support and interest stems from the fact that my mum owned a betting shop in my childhood,” Mr Davies added.

“(That is) where I had my first job. It does not stem from a day out at the races.”

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The government has come under intense scrutiny to crack down on the contentious FTOBs, but one member of parliament is adamant the bookmakers will have no bearing on any decisions that will be made on the machines.

MP for Tottenham, and campaigner against FOTBs for over 10 years David Lammy, stated that while the bookmakers do not have influence on members of the government, all arrangements need to be made public.

“It is clear that the gambling lobby does have its friends in parliament and there should be absolute transparency about the links between lobbyists and members of parliament across a whole range of industries.”

Can Government remain impartial while profiting from bookies?

Let’s get this straight, MPs are being gifted lavish days at the races and other inducements, but they can maintain complete neutrality on any decisions that are to be made that will impact the bookmakers?

Is this something from a Martin Scorsese movie?

The call for total transparency is the right approach here, but what we do not understand is how the government expects its people to maintain the faith that the right calls for the betterment of the people will be made while MPs live it up on the bookmaker’s dime.

We think it is high time that the government cracks down hard on MPs that profit from bookies. The FOTB debate is only going to increase even further in the coming months and given what is at stake for the betting agencies, they will spare no expense to try and influence the decisions of the people in power.

The sooner the government puts a stop to these types of inducements and incentives for members of parliament the better off we will be. Every decision made will come under intense scrutiny and MPs will be questioned significantly if they act in what is deemed to be the best interests of bookmakers.