If you aren’t aware of it, gambling companies have long been a part of UK industry. It is one of the most liberal gambling industries around the world. This makes it a prime location for companies to receive an official licence. Of course, this has not always been the case for the UK. Many decades ago, freedom within the gambling sphere wasn’t anything like it is today. It was only through a mass of lobbying from gambling companies and bettors that it came to be. As a result of such activity, bookmakers became legal in 1961. Throughout proceeding years, more and more gambling became legal, too.
Because of premises holding licences, people within the UK can walk into them and gamble. This accounts for bookmakers, casinos, bingo halls, and so on. UK gamblers have a lot to thank lobbying for. Without it, the gambling culture may not have gone on to become what it is today. Doubtless, it might not have grown to such a vast size as it currently is. Online and mobile betting have also had their own impacts on this expansion. Many takeovers and acquisitions have also taken place in recent times. You only need to look at the acquisition of William Hill by 888 in 2022.
Without that initial lobbying, could any of this have become possible today? It’s a good question to look into, which we intend to do. Yet we also want to know how much lobbying by gambling companies actually takes place. Do companies take an active role in organising lobbying rallies? Let’s see how these betting brands operate and if lobbying is a central focus for them.
A History of Gambling Lobbying in the United Kingdom
We’ll need to travel back in time a little bit to find out more about gambling lobbying. In the late 19th century, gambling existed as a popular pastime for the upper classes. They often partook in card games, held within establishments known as casinos. Of course, there was a certain level of backlash to these venues.
Bookmakers utilised a different tactic for offering gambling back then. They would set up a base within a local pub. Runners would then go out to inform on the odds at the hour. They would collect peoples’ bets and pay any winners. While The Street Betting Act came about in 1906 to combat this activity, it wasn’t as effective as hoped.
It wasn’t until 1960 that the Betting and Gaming Act allowed for legal off-course betting in the UK. Many people participated in this type of betting once it became legal, too. The year after, certain gambling on games for small money sums was also made legal. This didn’t come about by magic, though. It was due to gambling companies lobbying for its legalisation. The Street Betting Act had started pushing gambling activity underground. At the same time, the police were having a hard time enforcing the laws. They were often ridiculed and criticised for their activities at the time.
Gambling companies began lobbying for gambling regulation to come into effect. This way, people could engage in licensed and regulated betting. The government could also take a cut of the proceedings from it. Meanwhile, the police could handle more important duties as well. It took several months and years of lobbying for things to change, of course. Yet in 1960, it did so, and this led to many years of happy customer betting in the UK.
Do Gambling Companies Still Use Lobbying Tactics Today?
While the gambling industry in the UK is vast today, this doesn’t mean lobbying doesn’t take place. It would seem nonsensical to proceed with this kind of activity though, right? After all, if there is a big gambling scene in the country, why would companies need to lobby?
Well, it seems as though they sometimes need to build up support for themselves. Especially considering that the UK has experienced a lot of anti-gambling campaigns. Taking place over several years recently, not everyone in the country seems happy with gambling laws and gambling brands need to get important people on their side.
There is little doubt that gambling contributes a lot to the UK economy each year. Yet it is also a question of whether the laws are too liberal as well. Many people have commented on the capability for people to become addicted to it. This is easier to happen when gambling is available on a much freer basis. To make sure gambling maintains a position in UK society, some companies may have turned to lobbying. Even Members of Parliament (MPs) have benefitted from gambling brands this way.
Such may have been the case in April of 2023, when Tory MP Scott Benton fell victim to video evidence. Footage shot in secret shows him offering to lobby ministers on behalf of the industry. This would occur in exchange for financial reward. Benton said he would leak sensitive market information to an investment fund. He would also ask parliamentary questions on its behalf as part of the deal. Yet that activity breaches lobbying rules set out in parliament.
Media company The Times found the footage as part of an undercover investigation. The revelation of such saw people call for Prime Minster, Rishi Sunak to strip Benton of the Tory whip. In the video, undercover reporters posed as investors. Benton spoke to them of how willing he was to take actions breaking parliamentary rules. Under such, MPs cannot advocate for particular matters in the House in return for payment. Benton believed the fund was set up by an Indian businessman. He commented that he could try to water down the proposed gambling reforms. The publishing of the white paper for this occurred in April 2023.
The footage shows Benton promising to provide a copy of the white paper to the “business”. This, he would do at least two days before its publication and the “investors” could enjoy the market-sensitive information early. He even agreed to a fee proposed by the reporters of between £2,000 and £4,000 a month. That would be for two days’ work.
Other Instances of Gambling Lobbying Taking Place
It’s not only single instances of gambling lobbying taking place. In April of this year, it came to light that the industry had increased spending on MPs. Not by a little, either. In fact, such spending increased tenfold in a five-year period. The industry has actually now become one of the best-connected sectors in Westminster.
Examining data from parliamentary records, The Guardian exposed the spending levels. Dozens of MPs, both Labour and Tory, have been on the receiving end of thousands of pounds in hospitality. Some of the country’s biggest betting companies have provided these perks. Tens of thousands of pounds a year go towards sports tickets for MPs primarily. That’s an estimate of the amount too, with the actual figure likely to be much higher. This is because they don’t have to declare anything less than £300.
Concern has, therefore, come to a head in parliament. Many believe that the gambling industry has too much power in a political sense. After all, gambling companies won’t have provided these perks without getting something in return. Likely, the MPs benefitting from such have lobbied for the industry.
Analysis suggests that in 2019, the biggest gambling companies and lobbyists spent almost £8,000 on tickets. That money went on events for six MPs, as well as their families and friends. Tory MP Laurence Robertson was one of the biggest recipients of such. Included in his perks was hospitality from both William Hill and Coral. Also notable was a day out at Doncaster races for him and his wife, as well as a member of staff.
By 2021, the total spent rose to £114,000, with 25 MPs experiencing the benefits. The vast proportion of that went on tickets and corporate hospitality. In 2022, the number of people benefitting rose again. A total of 36 MPs received around £87,000 in tickets and corporate entertainment to events. This included racing, football and rugby. Some even attended the Brit Awards, thanks to the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC). As far as 2023 goes, the industry has spent more than £13,000 on such rewards for MPs. All that money has come from the BGC.
Of course, it was towards the end of 2020 that the UK Government announced its gambling review. As a result of this, the industry braced itself for certain changes. Yet it didn’t want these to be too harsh, without a doubt. Anyone can likely see that providing MPs with freebies would curry favour with them. The increase in 2021 through to 2022 and even into this year is doubtless due to that.
Ladbrokes Owner Responsible for ‘Dishonest’ Lobbying
Lobbying is something that many people question the morality of, for obvious reasons. This is the case when it comes to the owner of Ladbrokes, Entain. It has recently been on the receiving end of accusations about “dishonest” lobbying. The company sits accused of funding an operation to mobilise people to complain to MPs about gambling reform. The government published the white paper for this last month, as noted. Measures were also included in such to make the industry safer for players. Yet the belief is that such changes will affect the revenue for gambling operators.
Entain’s CEO, Jette Nygaard-Andersen, said that she welcomed the changes at the time. She even commented on it being “an important step”, and one fit for the digital age. Yet emails uncovered by The Guardian reveal a very different mindset. Despite the public support for the white paper, Entain was funding a lobbying operation. This had the aim of watering down or overturning gambling reform altogether.
It was only a few days after the white paper saw the light of day that action began. An organisation known as the Players’ Panel wrote to people who had signed up to receive information about its work. The organisation claimed to represent the interests of ordinary gamblers. Within its emails, it said that recipients should write to their MPs opposing the reforms. It didn’t take long for The Guardian to uncover its funding by Entain. Yet the emails from Players’ Panel did not disclose this. Instead, recipients received 10 letter templates. Some of those placed a focus on specific parts of the gambling white paper.
It’s not the first instance of Entain involving itself in lobbying, either. In July of 2021, reports surfaced on specifics of MPs receiving rewards from the industry. Esther McVey, former work and pensions secretary, accepted certain perks. One of them was a package from Entain worth £3,457. This saw her be able to attend the England versus Denmark Euro 2020 football match. Labour MP Toby Perkins accepted the exact same package, too.
Is it that much of a surprise, though? Gambling companies have been quite vocal about their dislike of the changes to laws. New legislation could be very detrimental to their revenues once introduced. Why would they be in favour of such changes taking place? Their income is, after all, at risk from gambling reform in the UK.
If you rewind to 2019, the maximum bets on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) decreased. What once stood at £100 per spin became £2 per spin. The news of this law change broke in 2018, giving companies time to prepare for it. Yet operators were very unhappy about it, which is understandable.
Betting brands claimed that FOBTs brought the most income to them within land-based bookies and reducing the bet maximums would have a severe effect on their revenue. As a result, some shops could end up closing forever. William Hill did indeed experience a £720 million loss following that crackdown. The company highlighted it as the reason for 700 high street betting shops closing, too. There is little wonder that operators are likely to be against strict law changes.
To try and combat the severity of law changes, gambling brands engage in lobbying. Feeding MPs with free tickets and hospitality packages is a big way in which they do this. As a result, the MPs speak out in support of gambling companies in parliament. The setup is beneficial for both sides. Whether it should be possible to do depends upon your own moralistic views. Of course, this could also depend upon how visible the gambling companies are in lobbying.