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Meet me in the lobby

Inews this week revealed that “MPs who have opposed tougher gambling regulations have received a total of £279,000 in earnings, donations and hospitality from the betting and horseracing industries since 2019.”

Between parliamentary transcripts, news reports, and the MPs’ register of members’ interests, the news outlet pieced together exactly how much has been given to British politicians by the sector in recent years.

The piece is also quick to point out that there is “no suggestion that the MPs have acted immorally or outside of parliamentary rules,” but adds that there are concerns around a potential conflict of interest when it comes to supporting or blocking newly proposed gambling regulations.

One such change is the highly controversial idea of so-called affordability checks, intended to prevent people from gambling beyond their means by ensuring they have the financial resources to spend at a given level.

That level will be set at £500 in losses per month when the checks are first implemented for a trial period, beginning in August.

As well as industry campaigners, many MPs were vocally opposed to the introduction of the checks, claiming they would have a negative impact on the horseracing sector while also having the potential to push bettors towards the unregulated market.

Several of those MPs have been provided with significant donations from the gambling sector, inews revealed, with tickets and hospitality at sporting events just as common as donations in cash or paid consulting work.

Trade association the Betting and Gaming Council, which represents the largest operators in the UK, tops the list of the biggest spenders, having contributed more than £128,000 to MPs in recent years.

Entain came in as the second biggest spender, with donations totalling almost £74,000, while the other significant contributors have each given up sums under £20,000.

Readers are encouraged to check out this article in full to see just which MPs have been accepting such contributions, and from where.

In it to win it

Elsewhere, The Telegraph reported on the latest twist in the UK’s National Lottery saga, as one of the bidders for the fourth licence – Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell – claimed the decision to grant the licence to Allwyn was “unfairly favourable” to the Czech lottery giant.

In the UK’s High Court earlier this week, lawyers for Northern & Shell argued there were conflicts of interest during the licence bidding process, leading to a competition that was “seriously flawed”.

The case pointed out, for example, that investment bank Rothschild was advising the Gambling Commission at the time, but had also previously worked for Allwyn.

“The conflict was clear,” said Michael Bowsher KC, a lawyer representing Northern & Shell.

As a result, the company is now suing the Gambling Commission over its rejection in the procurement process, seeking tens of millions of pounds in damages.

Other accusations levelled at the regulator include that it provided “inadequate” and “inconsistent” feedback on the firm’s application, and that unfairly favourable treatment was offered to its competitor, Allwyn.

In response, lawyers for the UKGC argued that Desmond’s bid to run the National Lottery was “fanciful”, having performed “extremely badly” against the tests designed to assess its suitability as operator.

“It didn’t fail by just a bit,” said Sarah Hannaford KC, a lawyer representing the regulator, with Allwyn securing a score of 87.2% in the testing process, and Northern & Shell scoring just 57.5%.

The business also failed to pass several mandatory checks, the UKGC added, suggesting this fact should have allowed this case to be dealt with at a short trial.

If the regulator is to be believed, it seems this lawsuit may well end up going the same way as the fourth National Lottery licence – against Northern & Shell.

Murky waters 

The Guardian this week reported on the grey areas of responsible gaming policies on cruise ships out in international waters.  

These days – alongside E.coli outbreaks, questionable buffets and “celebrity” entertainers – many cruises boast well equipped gambling facilities.  

The popularity of these on board casinos is in part due to links with loyalty accounts that be exchanged for food, drinks and other goodies.  

According to the piece, ships are generally governed by the laws of the country within 12 nautical miles of land. 

Outside this boundary – ships are bound the laws of the nation where they are registered.  

However, for British ships, the Gambling Commission has no remit over a vassal’s gambling operations in international waters. 

As such beyond the 12 mile limit its “anything goes, as far as gambling is concerned”, says Tim Stephens, professor of international law at Sydney Law School. 

This means that on-ship casinos could potentially allow things that would be offences under UK law, such as extending credit to gamble or offering complimentary drinks.  

While many ships have responsible gaming codes of conduct, the piece highlighted that enforcement can often be a challenge.  

Associate professor in the experimental gambling research lab at Central Queensland University Alex Russell said: “We know that [intervention] usually doesn’t happen and it’s not necessarily a failing of the staff. 

“It’s really hard to tell when someone is getting out of control. You don’t know how much someone has in their bank account, so it’s very hard for staff to step in. 

“Questions need to be answered about these arrangements. Who’s taking responsibility and what does that look like? Who’s safeguarding the people who go on these cruises?” 

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