An MP who has made no secret of his allegiance to the gambling industry, Scott Benton has had the whip removed after being filmed offering to leak the government’s long-awaited white paper on the gambling industry in an undercover sting.
The minister for Blackpool South also offered to lobby his fellow politicians on behalf of the undercover reporters from The Times.
Benton promised to lobby his fellow MPs in return for money – that’s against the rules, obviously, and so senior Tories have had no choice but to suspend him from the party pending a further investigation.
The sting operation saw The Times reporters acting on behalf of a made-up lobbying group called TAHR Partners, who set up a meeting with Benton in a Central London hotel back in March.
The journalists had contacted a number of MPs offering them cash to act as ‘expert advisers’, which formed part of a wider investigation into allegations that MPs accepted financial incentives from betting firms to lobby on their behalf.
Benton agreed to meet with TAHR Partners, and allegedly told them that for a fee of between £2,000 and £4,000 per month, he would be happy to help the firm – a direct breach of the rules that state politicians are banned from trying to influence government in return for payment.
And he promised that he could deliver the government’s upcoming white paper to TAHR ’48 hours’ prior to its publication.
Benton promised the group direct access to MPs, revealing to reporters a technique of waiting outside a voting lobby to speak to those responsible for decision-making in certain policy areas. “The minister has to pass you and then you’ve got ten minutes while you walk around to the next vote to have his ear,” the Blackpool South MP confirmed.
Everyone has a right to reply, of course, and after The Times reported their meeting with Benton he commented: “Last month I was approached by a purported company offering me an expert advisory role. I met with two individuals claiming to represent the company to find out what this role entailed.
“After this meeting, I was asked to forward my CV and some other personal details. I did not do so as I was concerned that what was being asked of me was not within parliamentary rules.”
Mind you, Benton has not been shy in working with gambling firms in the past. He was one of 28 MPs to accept hospitality packages from betting companies in 2021, with tickets to watch the Euro 2020 game between England and Denmark (courtesy of Entain) and a day of racing at Ascot worth nearly £7,500.
And on the afternoon of the former, he had spoken in parliament about the perils of tougher regulation on the gambling industry.
That must just be a coincidence, surely?
Crackdown on Gambling for Under-25s?
Meanwhile, The Sun newspaper has prepared a ‘leak’ of its own.
They claim to have got their hands on a version of the gambling white paper from a source within the Cabinet, with a number of industry changes set to be made.
Maximum stakes of £2 will be imposed on those under the age of 25 playing casino games, bringing them in line with FOBT machines found in high street betting shops. For those aged 26+, a maximum stake of £15 has been mooted.
There’s no specific mention of punters facing affordability checks apart from those at risk of ‘spiralling into debt’, although bookmakers and operators will be tasked with stepping up their efforts to monitor those who are wagering huge sums in short spaces of time.
It’s thought that tighter regulation will be introduced to govern free bet bonuses and VIP schemes, while a new watchdog will give punters a direct outlet to complain to about their chosen betting firms – however, the body will not be given legal powers to act upon them.
It’s also been claimed that gambling firms will face a higher rate of tax, which could be 1% of annual profits, with the money raised used to fund research and treatment into problem gambling. Horse racing betting could also be taxed at a higher rate, with the proceeds fed back into the sport.
And, after years of trying to force through voluntary measures, it looks as though gambling firms will be banned from sponsoring the shirts of Premier League football clubs.
Although forever delayed, it’s thought that the white paper will finally be published within the next fortnight.