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More FOBT insights from the Upper Chamber

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling criticises political lobbying from the horse racing sector and bookmakers. The Campaign will continue its work until a 'sensible' policy is in place on fixed odds betting terminals

In a recent Central Lobby article the Campaign for Fairer Gambling explained the weaknesses with the government’s position on FOBTsand the inadequacy of the explanations given by Conservative Minister Lord Bourne in a House of Lords debate. However, it was Lord Lipsey who stole the show with his “ fifty shades of betting shops” speech. While the sexy stuff made the headlines, the most telling comment from Lord Lipsey was:   

"[Bookmakers] were legendary lobbyists once upon a time. If William Hill or Ladbrokes came through your door you shivered with fear and slavered to do their will. But now their approach has been that of the tobacco industry at its very worst."

Lord Lipsey has an interest in racing as a former non-executive director of the Tote, a Chair of the British Greyhound Racing Board and a member of the All Party Parliamentary Betting and Gaming Group (APPBGG). With this background, as well as his relationship with the pro-bookie MPs Philip Davies and Gerry Sutcliffe (both of whom also hold senior positions on the APPBGG), it is certain that the insight provided by Lord Lipsey is accurate.

Parliament needs to take this insight very seriously. How did the bookies become such a powerful lobby? Why were they allowed to operate as an unregulated sector until technology and remote gambling forced the gambling review which resulted in the 2007 enactment of the 2005 Gambling Act?

Complimentary visits to sponsored sporting events, horse race meetingsand dining hospitality to media and politicians is nothing new. Leaked confidential papers revealed the extent of Ladbrokes' engagement in 2005. The Telegraph, which published the leaked documents, commented that “the papers – including internal strategy documents and a 'political communications programme' drawn up by their lobbyists – show how Ladbrokes sought to wine and dine many of the key people involved in the proposed legislation in order to get their message across to select committees and top ministers, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer.”

Dame Tessa Jowell, when a DCMS Minister, famously posed behind a roulette wheel saying "There is nothing wrong with a harmless flutter!" This photograph was taken at a Gala Coral casino in the presence of Neil Goulden, the Chairman Emeritus of Gala Coral, ex-Chair of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) and current Chair of the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT). The RGT provided the inconclusive FOBT research that government claimed to be relying on.

All this lobbying has enabled them to renege on an agreement with Government to stay onshore with telephone betting in exchange for reduced taxation. The bookmakers have subsequently avoided £1 billion of UK tax via their remote sites targeting British gamblers. They have also avoided full compliance on parity with casinos under EU money-laundering regulation.

Most importantly, the bookmakers illegally introduced FOBTs, presenting what former DCMS Civil Servant Nick Bent described as “ predictable and worthless” FOBT research; introduced a code which in the Campaign’s opinion is ineffective, and were granted the easy-access high-street monopoly of £100 per spin gambling machines.  

Post 2007, Gerry Sutcliffe MP, now also a RGT “independent" Trustee, arrived at DCMS and delayed action on FOBTs by instigating research, which has led to the current lack of FOBT resolution. Mr. Sutcliffe, who is retained by the bookmakers’ racecourse pitch committee did find time though to resolve the horseracing levy.

Did the bookies know how addictive FOBTs were when hiring Dirk Vennix as CEO of the ABB? Vennix was recruited from the Tobacco Manufacturers Association. The IEAhas represented bookmaker interests when engaged in attacking the campaign. The pro-FOBT Mr Davies MP is also a supporter of tobacco interests.

With the Campaign amassing volumes of evidenceand being able to soundly contradict the public representations by bookies to governmentwhich the Campaign believes are misleading, their credibility and lobbying power is in decline. However there are still grounds to be very afraid.

The Campaign will continue regardless until bookie lobbying is overcome and the only sensible FOBT policy is in force - a stake reduction from £100 to £2 per spin.

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Read the most recent article written by Campaign for Fairer Gambling - DCMS Triennial Review of Stakes and Prizes now 'long overdue'