In a move that was rather unexpected, to say the least, the Flutter Entertainment group have appointed former Labour MP Tom Watson as an ‘adviser’.
Sort of like the inhabitants of the city of Troy just giving the keys over to the Achaeans rather than getting them to build a massive wooden horse and forcing their way through, Flutter – the holding company of Paddy Power, Betfair and Sky Bet – have turned to the former deputy leader in its attempts to improve its position with regards to problem gambling.
Watson was always a vocal anti-gambling campaigner in his time as an MP, and he spoke a number of times in the Houses of Parliament about problem gambling and its associated societal impacts. He also campaigned for more stringent legislation for the betting industry.
Interestingly, Flutter have confirmed that Watson will be paid a retainer of ‘less than six months’. But, still, nice to profit from the very people you’re trying to help….
Watson will advise Flutter on how responsible gambling measures can be implemented in the firms’ betting shops and online, as well as best practice in customer service and in tackling money laundering. “[Flutter] convinced me that they were serious about letting me . . . jump in at the deep end of the company, learn how they operate and let me share my unvarnished thoughts about what they do,” Mr Watson said when pressed on his intentions.
Meanwhile, Peter Jackson – the chief executive of Flutter – said he wanted ‘to lead the industry’ in tackling the negative sides of the gambling industry. “We have to work harder than ever before to find a way to continue to bring great products and brands to our customers while always having the need to protect the vulnerable clearly in mind. Tom will hold a mirror up to help us make sure we are getting this balance right,” he said.
Who is Tom Watson?
It was way back in 2001 when Tom Watson was elected as an MP for the first time, taking up his seat in the West Bromwich constituency.
He climbed through the ranks of the Labour Party, and in 2015 he was appointed the Deputy Leader of the party. However, disputes with the then leader Jeremy Corbyn, and his involvement in a campaign of false allegations made in the paedophilia investigation, saw him stand down as a Member of Parliament in 2019.
But his time in politics was not shy of controversy. He was a vocal critic of Rupert Murdoch and his media empire, but it was his work in gambling reform campaigning that will be his most lasting legacy.
Watson perennially lobbied the government to toughen up the Gambling Act 2005, and while he hasn’t directly influenced a change in betting industry legislation it is clear his work has had an impact – the Conservatives pledged to re-evaluate the Act in their election manifesto, and it is believed that their review will be published this autumn.
The industry, harmed by regulatory changes such as the £2 FOBT maximum stake and the banning of credit card deposits, fears the worse after a series of damning reports and investigations – specifically referencing problem gambling – have been published in the past year.
Will the Gambling Act 2005 Be Abolished?
It’s no secret: the Parliamentary All Party Betting and Gaming Group (APBGG) has begun reviewing the Gambling Act 2005, with their overarching aim to investigate whether the terms of the regulation are still relevant to the ‘technical and social developments’ that the betting industry has witnessed in the past 15 years.
The APBGG published a survey on the website that all manner of stakeholders and interested persons were invited to complete, and from that a series of discussion points were raised.
A number of online consultations have since been held, and these will form the basis for the report that the APBGG feeds back into the government.
It is believed that four key issues have been raised:
- Is the Gambling Act 2005 still fit for purpose?
- Is gambling marketing appropriate?
- How can problem gambling be tackled?
- Is the gambling industry’s connection to football toxic?
The results are expected this autumn, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the government will be looking to score some easy points with the public by cracking down on one of the most divisive business sectors around.