Two of the biggest high-street bookmakers in the United Kingdom, Ladbrokes Coral and William Hill, have reportedly increased the amount they spend on hospitalities for Members of Parliament. The UK government is currently pressured into taking more serious actions against the betting industry, which may be a potential reason for the considerable increase in the hospitality expenditures of the two leading sports betting operators.
Data from the parliamentary Register of Members’ Financial Interests indicates that the expenditures on hospitality of the two leading UK bookmakers amount to £18,018. The sum is spread between a total of twelve Members of Parliament. There is a sharp contrast in expenditure figures from previous years, as the two bookmakers recorded joint hospitality expenses of only £3,300 and £2,004 in 2013 and 2014, respectively, which makes for a 40% increase in hospitality spendings.
Coincidentally or not, this increase in spendings follows the launch of a review by the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) eight months ago. The review in question deals with the UK bookmaking industry, in particular, and reportedly would recommend reducing the size of the wagers allowed on the so-called fixed-odds betting terminals or FOBT.
These electromechanical devices are widespread throughout bookmaker shops in the UK and enable customers to wager on the outcomes of different events and games with fixed odds, such as bingo, simulated greyhound races, and horse racing. The FOBTs, however, are described as extremely addictive as they enable customers to bet up to £100 each twenty seconds.
The potential restrictions on these fixed-odds machines can result in sports betting shops operated by companies like Ladbrokes Coral and William Hill losing a good portion of their revenue. According to a report released by the Gambling Commission, these fixed-odds betting terminals account for around 56% of UK bookmakers’ gross profits.
This past April, London-based financial services company Barclays released a research which indicated that the stake restrictions on FOBTs are likely to result in massive losses in 2018 revenue for several leading UK bookmakers. Ladbrokes Coral alone would part with nearly half a billion, while William Hill and Betfair are facing potential losses of £284 million and £55 million, respectively. That is if the UK government decides to limit the stakes of FOBTs to £2 only.
With such massive losses looming in 2018, it is anything but surprising high-street betting operators like William Hill and Ladbrokes Coral started providing more hospitality to MPs as of 2016. Two of the biggest recipients of hospitality are members of the Tory Party, namely Laurence Robertson and Philip Davies. Both MPs are known to have been receiving hospitalities from sports betting operators Coral and Ladbrokes since 2013. These two bookmakers functioned as separate entities at the time, but went on to merge as of 2016.
MP Philip Davies occupies a number of important positions, including Chairman of the Betting and Gaming All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and Vice Chairman of the Bingo All-Party Parliamentary Group. In fact, MP Davies has shared in the past that he took his first paid job at the small sports betting shop his mother used to own.
It makes sense that MP Davies is a keen supporter of the betting industry and as such, has received hospitality and various gifts, like event tickets, from sports betting operators like Ladbrokes Coral and William Hill. According to the parliamentary Register of Members’ Financial Interests, MP Davies has registered as much as £5,617 in hospitalities and gifts from the above-mentioned sportsbooks for the 2016/2017 period. Some of the said gifts include £1,200 tickets for major sports events such as the prestigious Cheltenham races. In comparison, the two leading bookmakers treated Mr. Davies to hospitality worth £904 in 2015.
MP Laurence Robertson, on the other hand, has received as much as £5,816 in hospitalities from Ladbrokes Coral and William Hill following the announcement of the DCMS review. Mr. Roberson is also known to have submitted four written questions to the DCMS ministers and Her Majesty’s Treasury concerning the value of the FOBTs to the country’s economy and the tax revenues.
Yet, MP Robertson and MP Davies are hardly the only political figures to have received gifts from the two betting operators. Other MPs who have registered hospitality from Ladbrokes Coral and William Hill include Conor McGinn from the Labour Party, Rob Wilson who is a former member of the Conservative Party, and Michael Dugher, also a former Labour Party member.
Representatives of Ladbrokes Coral’s governance denied that there was an increase in the company’s hospitality expenditures and explained that these expenses normally fluctuate, depending on the sponsorships of different sports events. The company’s governance commented that it is normal for one such business to maintain a dialogue with parliamentary members because their decisions have a direct impact on the employment of thousands of people, working for Ladbrokes Coral.