Is protecting the commercial interests of bookmakers more important than protecting consumers?
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling criticises the work of the All Party Parliamentary Betting and Gaming Group and writes that the group should focus on protecting gambling consumers rather than protecting the bookmaking firms, many of which are located offshore.
When visiting ICE, the International Casino Exhibition at Excel last week, the first person I bumped into that I knew was Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, in his capacity as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Betting and Gaming Group (APPBGG). We had a heated exchange and attracted a few passing glances.
Mr Davies explained that he is passionate about horse racing and betting shops, based on the fact that his old mum used to have one. Many others who share those passions have spoken out against the corporate bookies and their FOBTs. They don’t see any benefits to horse racing from FOBTs.
Mr Davies was also able to explain his personal attacks on my integrity and the integrity of the Campaign by stating, “That’s what the bookmakers tell me”. An admission that he is willing to address the House with!
Mr Davies was also due to speak at an International Legislators’ Day event. A private invitation seminar, a walk around the exhibition, visits to a casino, a bingo hall and a betting shop were all on the agenda.
Rounding off the day was a drinks reception in the Palace of Westminster. But the highlight of the event was the Annual Regulators’ Lunch with a keynote speech by the bookmakers' favourite MP himself, about the power of technology in the gambling industry.
Yes, Mr Davies has extended his areas of expertise beyond all his filibustering of useful rational cross-party legislation that he has opposed. He is now qualified to speak on “the innovative use of technology and data inputs to facilitate better consumer protection”. Mr Davies claims, “I would like to see the UK gaming sector being the first one to use that [innovation] to deliver an effective responsible gambling strategy that offers a competitive advantage”.
It all sounds wonderful, but how does the UK compete internationally? In respect of bricks-and-mortar gambling, no gamblers will ever visit the UK based on the abstract notion of a responsible gambling strategy. In respect of remote gambling, online or mobile, most of the operators, whether they are under UK company control or not, are located offshore, with many of them based in Gibraltar.
The Remote Gambling Association (RGA) is a funder of the Secretariat of the APPBGG which Mr Davies chairs. RGA members dominate the Gibraltar Betting and Gaming Association of operators which objects to having to pay tax where the gambler is located which is where the impact of the harm is felt. It is fighting against that UK point-of-consumption tax in the EU Courts.
Mr Davies doesn’t like the current remote gambling tax rate of 15% anyway, despite it being lower than most other gambling tax rates. Several years ago, he wrote a piece in a New Statesman supplement for the bookies, advocating a remote gambling rate of only 6.75%.
So where is the evidence that innovation in technology has had any impact on responsible gambling so far? Remote operators cannot even detect money-launderers, never mind gambling addicts based on performance to date.
And where is the international evidence that there is any future in responsible gambling based on innovative technology? The best evidence is that it doesn’t yet work.
Who will be the international regulators eagerly hanging on to the words of Mr Davies? Step forward the NCSGL, the National Council of State Gambling Legislators from the US. This obscure body holds a couple of events every year, achieving little other than drafting a states-rights position on internet gambling. Good luck with that under Donald J Trump and Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General.
What was International Legislators’ Day all about? Mr Davies was able to advocate that remote gambling (and sports betting) could be operated safely in the US by companies which are located offshore to avoid UK tax and enjoy minimal regulation. It almost sounds more like treasonable than reasonable.
At least Mr Davies might get a paid-for trip to the US to meet again with the NCSGL and give another speech. Based on his previous track record, he loves to be paid by the bookies to go to the races.
It seems Mr Davies is more concerned with protecting the commercial interests of the bookies than protecting consumers.