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ASCOT, ENGLAND – JUNE 15: A general view as racegoers watch the action during Royal Ascot 2022 at Ascot Racecourse on June 15, 2022 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
High stakes

High stakes

ASCOT, ENGLAND – JUNE 15: A general view as racegoers watch the action during Royal Ascot 2022 at Ascot Racecourse on June 15, 2022 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

The gambling industry has placed expensive bets on its political connections

MPs from both main UK parties have praised gambling firms and the wider sector after taking nearly £277,000 in donations, gifts, earnings and other benefits from bookmakers and online casinos, Tortoise has found.

Over the course of this parliament, Conservative and Labour MPs have declared £167,340 in donations or gifts from gambling firms and related businesses, according to the Westminster Accounts, developed by Tortoise in partnership with Sky. They have also declared outside earnings from second jobs in the gambling industry of nearly £110,000. 

This week, Labour MP John Spellar wrote in Politics Home that “the betting and gaming industry is a Great British success story”, with the possibility of further job creation on top of an existing 20,000 jobs in the West Midland. 

He warned that tightening regulation, as a much-delayed gambling white paper is expected to recommend, would “put at risk yet another British industry”. He called for changes to be “sensible and proportionate” and advised against “blanket affordability checks at very low levels”. 

Nowhere in the article was it mentioned that Spellar has received £3,670 worth of tickets to hospitality and sporting events from two sources – Power Leisure Bookmakers and the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) – since June 2021.

These donations are dwarfed by the amount declared by Conservative MP Laurence Robertson, who has declared earnings of £51,740 from a second job with the Betting and Gaming Council as a parliamentary adviser on sport and safer gambling. He has also declared over £11,000 in gifts and hospitality, as well as £3,530 from the Jockey Club, a horse racing company.

Laurence Robertson MP

As has Scott Benton, the Conservative MP for Blackpool South. He led a debate in which he urged colleagues to drop “preconceived ideas and ideology” about the casino industry and downplayed concerns about gambling addiction.

Unlike Robertson, who highlighted his entry in the register of interests as he spoke up in favour of the industry in the same debate, Benton made no mention of free tickets he had already received. Neither did he mention he would be going that evening to Wembley to watch England play Denmark in the semi-final of Euro 2020, courtesy of betting group Entain – a freebie worth £3,457. 

Steve Donoghue is listed on parliament’s register as a staffer for Benton. He describes himself as a “management consultant” with a link to a website touting his work for the gambling sector. He previously acted as the secretariat for the Betting and Gaming APPG.

Benton declined to comment, although stressed he did not “employ” Donoghue. Spellar did not respond to Tortoise’s requests. 

Robertson told Tortoise: “I am an adviser on safer gambling, and during my time with them the BGC has introduced a number of measures which has led to a reduction in problem gambling. The Gambling Commission, which I met recently, confirms that the incidence of problem gambling has reduced over the last few years. This does not mean that more work is not needed – it is.”

But Ronnie Cowan, an SNP MP, told Tortoise the links between parliament and gambling created a situation in which MPs could become “biased and one-sided in their view”.

Money changing hands “diminishes your argument – it lessens your view as a member”, he said. “If people are paid to sell a product or amend a law to favour somebody that is corrupt – that is wrong.”

There is no suggestion of criminal wrongdoing by any of the MPs referred to in this article.