Fri, 19 April 2024

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
Home affairs
Rt Hon Rachel Reeves Mais lecture hits the nail on the head for construction. Partner content
By Baroness Fox
Home affairs
Historic wins, inspiring moments and British success: MPs share what they’re looking forward at the Paris Olympics Partner content
Veterans falling victim to plague of process  Partner content
Press releases

Press Freedom, Whistle-blowers, Judicial Reviews and the Horseracing Levy

Derek Webb | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes about the bookmaking sector and concerns over whistle-blowers and the new horseracing levy.

A recent Guardian article entitled, "Downward spiral: UK slips to 40th place in press freedom rankings" makes alarming reading. It claimed that a No 10 source who described the plan as the project of a "previous prime minister", claimed there had been a "full-frontal attack" on whistle-blowers. Maybe the next government can review this as part of post-Brexit regulatory improvements?

I have personal experience of the difficulties faced by whistle-blowers. I agreed to provide legal funding for Bill Bennett, ex-head of Health and Safety and Barry Phillips, ex-head of Security at Ladbrokes. They were fighting in an Employment Tribunal case, claiming that they had been unfairly dismissed for raising genuine concerns over company policy. This related to the danger of violence from FOBT addicts to betting shop staff, particularly when lone-staffing.

There have been two recent cases of FOBT-related violence which took place in Ladbrokes’ premises. Both the murder in Morden and an attempted murder and the serious sexual assault in Leicester had already been reported on but I did not need to know all the details when I decided to support Bill and Barry.

Their litigation has now been settled. Again, I do not know the details, but clearly there is a gag order on Bill and Barry regarding talking about specific Ladbrokes incidents. However, I do know that fees charged by Mishcon de Reya exceeded £300,000 and that Bill and Barry reimbursed me for the fees paid.

I did not have an agreement with them - just a handshake and a verbal commitment. It was very clear to me that they were not "disgruntled employees" but were honourable men of integrity trying to do the right thing.

The amounts that could have been recovered through continuing the litigation were so small that it was not financially viable to do so. There was still another hearing prior to a final hearing, assuming no appeal, and there were still disputes about document privilege.

Sadly, under current laws, I must advise all whistleblowers to stay anonymous. Legal overreach allows lawyers to stamp "confidential" on everything and then cause an expensive legal fight for the whistle-blower to breach that contrived confidentiality.

If there was real transparency through regulatory oversight, then there would be less need for whistleblowers. After all, one of the 2005 Gambling Act licensing objectives is "fair and open" gambling.

Around 20% of bookies’ FOBTs are criminally damaged annually, in addition to other damage to premises and equipment. Staff are also subject to abuse and violence making betting shops the most dangerous high-street premises to visit.

Violence by gamblers is the strongest indicator of disordered behavior, but the weak regulatory system under the Gambling Commission does not allow collation of all data on betting shop crime. This is despite another licensing objective in the 2005 Gambling Act requiring "no association of gambling and crime".

The DCMS review must reach an evidence based conclusion on FOBT maximum stakes to prevent the bookies prevailing in a Judicial Review. It is therefore ironic that the bookies can seem to hold back evidence that, it is clear to me, would support a FOBT stake reduction.

DCMS would be on safe ground with a £2 maximum stake as this is the maximum justified for machines in all other high street premises. However, if DCMS elects for a "compromise" such as a £10 maximum, this would be a non-evidence-based random number, leaving DCMS more vulnerable to a Judicial Review than a £2 maximum would. Additionally, it would leave DCMS exposed on both sides - why would supporters of a £2 stake not seek a Judicial Review of a £10 maximum?

The Campaign congratulates Tracey Crouch at DCMS on signing the Statutory Instrument to extend the 10% Horseracing Levy on horse betting profits to remote betting sites. Most of these sites went offshore to take advantage of even weaker regulation than in the UK and to avoid taxes.

Through EU courts the bookie dominated Gibraltar Betting and Gaming Association is trying to avoid a point-of-consumption gambling tax. As our prior Central Lobby article showed, there is a £50 billion happiness deficit in the UK as a consequence of problem gambling. You can see why the bookies don't like the polluter pays principle.

Already there is the suggestion that the bookies might try a Judicial Review against the new Horserace Levy. With the British Horseracing Authority no longer supporting the bookies’ FOBT position, a Judicial Review on the new Levy would further damage that fragile relationship. Hopefully the preposterous notion that action against FOBTs would be detrimental to racecourses, as advocated by some Parliamentarians, will now disappear.  

PoliticsHome Newsletters

Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.

Read the most recent article written by Derek Webb - Parent company of FOBT supplier loses over $315 million in anti-monopoly lawsuit


Culture Home affairs