As the UK government prepares to publish the results of an all-important regulatory review of the gambling industry next month, Ladbrokes Coral appeared at the top of a list of companies wining and dining the country’s politicians.
UK members of parliament are required to declare publically gifts of hospitality worth £300 ($389) or more, and, while Ladbrokes wasn’t the biggest donor in terms of the value of hospitality it provided, its name registered the most frequently.
Out of 187 donations on the list, which covers a period from the beginning of 2016 to July 2017, four MPs declared they had been schmoozed by Ladbrokes Coral 15 times, receiving hospitality worth a total of £7,475 ($9,679).
Freebies received included trips to horse racing meets at Ascot, Doncaster and Cheltenham, and the Community Shield soccer event at Wembley Stadium.
Position of Knowledge
Opponents of fixed-odds betting terminals, which will form the main focus of the regulatory review, have seized on the news as evidence that bookmakers are attempting to influence MPs to keep the maximum stakes of the controversial machines at $100 per spin.
Some MPs have called for stakes to drop to £2 per spin, a move that bookmakers say will have a devastating effect on the retail betting sector, which relies on the machines for around half of its revenues. Ladbrokes Coral, as the largest retail betting operator, would be the greatest exposed to the fallout from such a measure.
But a spokesman for Ladbrokes Coral denied that there was anything sinister, or even unusual, behind its courting of politicians.
“We employ over 25,000 people, we have a high street presence in nearly every constituency in the land and pay UK taxes of circa £55 million per annum,” said the spokesman. “Of course we engage with politicians, we want to make sure that when decisions are taken that affect our 25,000 people, they are done from a position of knowledge.”
Philip Davies, MP for Shipley and benefactor of the bookmaker’s largesse, said: “I am the elected chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Betting and Gaming, and a former bookmaker, so of course I meet with bookmakers.
“It would be rather extraordinary if I didn’t.”
Hammond Backing DCMS Review
Meanwhile, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (UK finance minister) Minister Philip Hammond has said he will stand by the results of the government’s review, even they include a drastic slashing of the stakes on FOBTs.
In a letter to Alan Smith, the Bishop of St Albans, a stanch opponent of the machines, Hammond denied reports that he had attempted to block the review in order to safeguard the £400 million ($518 million) per year they generate in taxes.
He also denied a rift had formed between the Treasury and the department undertaking the review, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
“Recent media reports on the status of the review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures are entirely without foundation,” he wrote in the letter, which was seen by the Observer newspaper.
“Both I and my department fully support DCMS’s work to ensure the UK’s gambling regime continues to balance the needs of vulnerable people, consumers who gamble responsibly, and those who work in this sector,” he added.