Betting and Gaming Council Wine and Dine MPs Ahead of Gambling Industry Reform

Houses of Parliament

Image Credit: By Adrian Pingstone (talk · contribs) (Self-photographed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The old saying that ‘there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch’ gets put to the test by MPs and politicians all the time, whose hubris in accepting free hospitality seemingly knows no bounds.

You can easily check how well your local MP is wined and dined by businesses and industry chiefs by searching the Register of Interests section of the UK Parliament website.

You’ll see the sheer breadth of companies and commercial interests that are only too happy to donate hospitality passes, event tickets and even cold, hard cash to MPs governing the communities in which they operate, and – as mentioned – there’s no such thing as a free lunch. In return, politicians are expected to offer something in kind….typically to lobby senior figures in the Commons on their behalf.

It’s amazing, really, how many MPs are willing to jump into bed with gambling firms and the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), who act as the representative body for many of the biggest outfits in the sector. In the year August 2020/21, ministers claimed a combined £225,000 in freebies from companies and organisations in the industry.

As the government readies its Gambling Act white paper review, it’s likely that some of the proposals will have a detrimental effect on betting firms. Whether it’s greater taxation, restrictions on trading or the imposition of affordability checks and other measures that could force punters to the black market, the paper is not expected to be packed with positivity for operators.

But it’s probable that any new legislation will need to pass a vote in parliament….perhaps explaining why betting brands and bookmakers are only too keen to get ministers onside.

Yes, Says Minister

Wembley Stadium

Credit: BoonritP / bigstock

The lure of expensive sports tickets and lucrative hospitality packages has proven too much to bear for some ministers in the past few months.

Alex Norris is a Shadow Minister tasked with scrutinising the government’s ‘Levelling Up’ campaign, and in the past year he has taken his social life up a notch or two with compliments from the gambling sector.

He was invited to the Championship play-off final between Nottingham Forest and Huddersfield Town at Wembley Stadium by Hestview, a bookmaking firm that’s part of the Sky Betting and Group, in May – his two match tickets and hospitality worth £700 according to his claimed expenses. That takes Norris’ annual tally of gifts from the gambling sector to a monetary value of around £3,000.

Laurence Robertson MP is a Tory minister paid £24,000 a year by the BGC – he has spoken at least three times in parliament in defence of the gambling sector.

Mark Eastwood MP went to the West Ham vs Leeds game in January in VIP fashion on the account of the BGC – who picked up a tab of £605 for the privilege. He also pocketed five VIP weekend passes for the Tramlines Festival, worth £447.

Clive Efford enjoyed a hospitality package at the England vs India test cricket game last August, courtesy of the BGC. Estimated value? £874.

Efford presumably would have bumped into John Spellar MP at that test – he also accepted the BGC’s kind offer, and was also wined and dined by Power Leisure Bookmakers at the Euro 2020 game between England and Germany….at a cost of nearly £2,000.

Louise Haigh MP hasn’t been as prolific in the donations stake as she once was, but she still found time in her schedule to attend the World Snooker Championship final at the expense of Betfred, who picked up the tab for the two tickets at £352.

Since the start of 2017, Haigh has attended the BAFTAs, Glastonbury, Ivor Novello awards on freebies as well as the St Leger Festival at Doncaster, paid for (£560) by William Hill.

This is not to vilify these particular individuals, because many, many MPs are at it. And that’s not to say they have done anything wrong either – all of the donations and gifts have been declared with accurate monetary values.

But it’s a symbol of the lobbying culture that still permeates in parliament, and it makes you wonder how much power commercial interests yield over the activities of our democratically-elected representatives.