MPs partied at Cheltenham while colleagues discussed Ukraine war and cost of living crisis in Parliament

Photo: Mark Hall/NationalWorld
Gambling firms and lobbying groups provided the three MPs with more than £5k worth of tickets and hospitality

Three Conservative MPs were given hospitality and tickets worth thousands of pounds to attend a prestigious horse-racing festival while Parliament was sitting and MPs were debating the war in Ukraine and cost of living crisis.

Tickets and lavish hospitality packages to Cheltenham Festival were provided by online gambling firms, bookmakers, a gambling lobbying organisation and the Jockey Club, according to entries in the MPs’ register of interests.

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MP with second job in gambling industry attends four days of Cheltenham

Conservative MP for Tewkesbury, Laurence Robertson, attended four days of the festival, from 15-18 March, with hospitality worth £4,140 provided by three different organisations.

The Jockey Club paid for hospitality on 15 March for Mr Robertson and his wife, Anne Robertson, and on 18 March for the couple and a friend, totalling £750.

Anne Roberston is employed by her husband as a senior parliamentary assistant, earning between £45,000.00 to £49,999.99 per year according to MPs’ expenses data.

Sky Betting and Gaming paid for hospitality on 16 March for Mr Robertson, his wife and another member of staff, totalling £1,050.

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On 17 March, the Betting and Gaming Council, the lobbying body for the gambling industry, paid for £2,340 worth of hospitality for Mr and Mrs Robertson, plus a friend.

The Betting and Gaming Council also employs Mr Robertson as a “Parliamentary Adviser on Sport and Safer Gambling”.

The backbench MP is paid £24,000 per year for a commitment of 10 hours per month, according to the MPs’ register of interests.

Cheltenham racecourse falls within Mr Roberston’s constituency.

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Mr Robertson is also the former chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on betting and gaming.

Transparency International has previously criticised some APPGs after NationalWorld reported that members of the betting and gaming APPG had spoken in support of the gambling industry having received donations and hospitality from the sector.

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

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.

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“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.”

Mr Robertson  made similar comments in a recent debate on gambling-related harm, on 29 March, when he highlighted the gambling industry’s contribution to the horseracing industry.

In a Westminster Hall debate last week, he said: “I represent the Cheltenham racecourse, and 45% of horse racing’s income comes from bookmakers.

“It is extremely important that we tackle problem gambling. One problem gambler is one too many, but is not that statistic very important when the Government considers how to take a balanced approach?”

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He added: “The entire sport of horse racing is very worried indeed about the potential loss of income in what is not a well-funded sport”

Which other MPs attended Cheltenham?

Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, is a current vice chair of the Gaming and Betting APPG.

Mr Davies attended three days of Cheltenham festival, from 15-17 March.

Two tickets and hospitality for 15 March, worth £700, were provided by Flutter Entertainment, which was formed following a merger between Paddy Power and Betfair.

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On 16 March, Entain Holdings - which owns Coral, Ladbrokes and a number of other betting brands - provided two tickets and hospitality worth £750.

One ticket with hospitality, worth £500, was provided for the 17 March raceday by a private donor, Will Rucker.

Former immigration minister Caroline Nokes MP received two tickets with hospitality on both 16 and 17 March, worth £700 each.

These were provided by Entain Holdings and Sky Betting and Gambling.

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Matt Zarb-Cousin, Director of Clean Up Gambling, which calls for reform of the sector, said that, “being a pro-gambling industry MP in Parliament certainly comes with its perks”.

“But thankfully,” he added, “the vast majority are still in favour of reform to a sector that is deriving most of its profit from people addicted.”

MPs have told NationalWorld that the gambling industry is ‘ramping up’ its lobbying efforts, ahead of a white paper on gambling reform, the publication of which is “imminent” according to Chris Philip, the minister responsible for gambling.

NationalWorld approached Laurence Robertson, Philip Davies and Caroline Nokes for comment on this article.

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