MPs given gifts by gambling and betting firms repeatedly supported the industry in Parliament

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A group of 20 MPs received more than £74,000 in gifts and hospitality from gambling and betting firms - with several later expressing support for the industry during Parliamentary debates

MPs gifted Wimbledon, Euros and race day tickets worth thousands of pounds by gambling and betting companies have expressed support for the industry during recent parliamentary debates, analysis by NationalWorldcan reveal.

The findings have caused concern among gambling reform groups that gambling companies are embarking on a “charm offensive” to influence MPs while a review of the Gambling Act 2005 is underway.

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Analysis of the MP’s Register of Interests as part of our Part Time Parliament investigation shows that a group of 20 cross-party MPs received more than £74,000 in gifts and hospitality from gambling and betting firms such as Entain Holdings, Power Leisure Bookmakers and the Gamesys Group between the start of 2020 and the end of August 2021.

The gifts included tickets and hospitality to Euro 2020 games, Wimbledon matches and race days worth up to £3,457 per MP.

Three-quarters of the MPs were Conservatives, and 86% of the total value of gifts went to them.

Hansard records show that some of the recipients, including Laurence Robertson (Tewksbury) and Scott Benton (Blackpool South) later expressed support for the gambling and betting industries during Parliamentary debates.

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‘Charm offensive’

Matt Zarb-Cousin, director of gambling reform group Clean Up Gambling, said it was “no surprise to see the betting industry on a charm offensive” with MPs at a time when the government is considering new restrictions on gambling in the UK as part of a review into the 2005 Gambling Act.

He warned however that “legislators should think twice about accepting hospitality from a sector that derives the majority of its profits from people experiencing harm”.

In one Commons debate on the Gambling Act in December 2020, Robertson spoke in support of the betting industry, “reminding” minister Nigel Huddleston “of the enormous contribution that betting companies make to horse-racing”.

Earlier that year, he had been awarded hospitality worth £900 at the March 2020 Cheltenham Racecourse by the Betting and Gaming Council, according to his entry in the Register of Interests.

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In a July 2021 debate on the UK casino industry, meanwhile, Benton spoke in support of the economic benefits of casinos.

“[Casinos’] contribution to the national economy and the job opportunities created in many towns must be taken into account in the upcoming review of the Gambling Act 2005,” Benton said.

In the month preceding the debate, Benton’s entries in the MP’s Register show that he received tickets and hospitality for Euros and Wimbledon matches worth almost £7,500 from betting and gambling firms.

What is the APPG?

Several of the MPs gifted tickets and hospitality by racing, betting and gambling companies in 2020/21 also sit on the all party parliamentary group (APPG) for betting and gaming.

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According to its website, the APPG acts “as a go-between for the [betting and gambling] industry, Parliament and government” and “advise[s] Parliament and the government on gambling-related issues”.

MPs Scott Benton, Conor McGinn, Aaron Bell, John Spellar are all current members of the group, while MPs Philip Davies and Laurence Robertson departed in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

Five of them were recipients of gifts from betting or gambling organisations in 2020/21, while Robertson and Davies hold paid positions as advisers on gambling outside of their role as MPs.

The sixth member, Conor McGinn, was gifted entry to horse racing worth up to £1000 by the Racecourse Association.

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APPGs have come under scrutiny in recent months, with fears that the informal parliamentary interest groups are allowing  commercial parties to further their own agendas via MPs.

In August, the Parliamentary Committee on Standards launched an inquiry into APPGs and their current role and influence in politics.

Alex Runswick, senior advocacy manager at Transparency International UK, said: “Time and time again we see examples of APPG members accepting the generous hospitality of companies with a direct interest in the groups they sit on.

“The perception that APPGs can be used to buy access and influence undermines the credibility of those who engage in these activities and the validity of their contributions in Parliament.”

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The group has called for greater transparency and stronger safeguards for APPGs.

The Betting and Gambling APPG was contacted by NationalWorldbut declined to comment.

Scott Benton MP said: “As Chair of the Parliamentary Betting and Gaming Group I liaise with all parts of the industry and a range of people who have different views on gambling (for and against) to ensure that these arguments are presented to the government as part of the gambling review.

“Attending hospitality events is one way of discussing these important issues with people in the industry. All of my interests have been properly declared in the usual way.”

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Part Time Parliament: read our latest investigation findings here, and sign up to our newsletter to get the inside story.

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