Bookmakers’ Hospitality to MPs Raises More Concerns in FOBTs Debate

The most recent figures about hospitality British MPs have received from bookmakers have raised additional questions and doubts whether participants in the debate over the controversial fixed-odds betting terminals have been presenting impartial and unbiased views on the matter.

The Independent reported today that Conservative MP Philip Davies has received a total of £4,354 in horse races tickets and hospitality from bookmakers since March. Most recently, the politician was treated to tickets to the York Races. The gift was courtesy of Ladbrokes Coral.

Mr. Davies is known to be one of the staunchest opponents of the now imminent crackdown on the so-called FOBTs. The UK Government announced in late October that there will be a reduction of the maximum bet the machines accept. At present, players can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds. The Government said that the maximum stake could be cut to just £2.

On the looming crackdown on the gambling machines, which have been blamed for a rise in gambling addiction rates, Mr. Davies said that the Government was simply trying to appeal to popular opinion and that there were far more addictive gambling activities than betting on FOBTs.

Fears over Conflict of Interest

While MPs who have been treated to hospitality from bookmakers have made due entry into the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, concerns have been voiced that their opinion on the FOBTs matter could have been influenced by the powerful gambling industry lobbyism.

It was estimated that Ladbrokes Coral, which operates the largest chain of betting shops with FOBTs in the country, could lose £450 million in gross gambling yield in 2018, if the maximum FOBTs stake is cut to just £2.

According to industry lobbyists, bookmakers will be forced to close shops and lay off staff as a result from the pending crackdown. It is also believed that smaller, independent bookmakers will have to shut down operations altogether.

A document obtained by The Guardian and published prior to the October 31 FOBTs debate showed that there were questions for MPs that represented viewpoints and arguments previously pushed by bookmakers and their lobbyists.

A spokesperson for Ladbrokes Coral has told The Independent that industry opponents have been carrying out a “McCarthyism type campaign” by trying to use the gifts made to MPs as an argument against the industry. The operator admitted to engaging with politicians in a bid to present them with a picture of the consequences of a FOBTs crackdown, the company representative went on to say, arguing that it granting hospitality to MPs has always been an open process and that all gifts have been registered as required.

The UK Government is currently into a 12-week consultation period during which it will receive and review input from all involved parties in the FOBTs debate. It will then announce by how much the maximum FOBT stake will be cut. The options before MPs are a reduction to £50, £20, or £5.


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