Industry advocacy faces media and political backlash as Gambling Act review nears

Ahead of the government’s impending review of the 2005 Gambling Act, two Conservative MPs have accepted jobs with the gambling industry to advise on ‘responsible gambling and customer service’.

The MPs roles and daily fees were revealed by parliamentary disclosure, reported by The Guardian, and criticised by opposition MPs as a ‘clear conflict of interest’.

Laurence Robertson (MP for Tewkesbury) agreed to work alongside the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) as the trade body’s parliamentary adviser on sport and safer gambling initiatives.

Robertson stated that he would not advocate for the betting industry nor would he make submissions to the gambling review on behalf of the cross-party parliamentary on betting and gaming group.

Meanwhile Philip Davies (MP for Shipley) accepted a consultancy role at GVC Holdings to advise on responsible gambling initiatives and customer service standards.

The upcoming review of the Gambling Act has been spearheaded by Boris Johnson’s government as it seeks to bring betting legislation into the digital age.

Forming an integral part of the Conservative’s manifesto, Johnson committed to protecting children from online harms and ‘the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content’, with the review expected to focus largely on the use of loot boxes and ‘credit card misuse’.

Davies and Robertson are not the first MPs to work with gambling companies, however their consultancy roles have attracted some criticism as they both remain prominent backbenchers in the party in government.

GVC has since clarified that Davies is no longer working for the company. The betting group explained that Davies offered advice on safer gambling and customer protection initiatives, offering insight on his background as a bookmaker and former chairman of a cross-party group on betting and gaming.

“As such, he has useful insight and perspective to offer on a range of industry issues including those that relate to safer gambling,” a spokesperson for GVC said. “However, following the recent management change at GVC, we decided it was a natural time to bring this arrangement to an end.”

Meanwhile the BGC has emphasised that Robertson offered advice on safer gambling and sport, and similar to Davies, gave insight on his membership of several cross-party groups on gambling.

Responding to the criticism, the BGC reiterated that their work with Robertson was in line with the strict protocols governing MPs: “He is a strong advocate of big changes in the betting industry.

“Indeed, as a Conservative candidate at the last general election, he stood on a manifesto specifically committed to reforming the Gambling Act. His appointment is consistent with the strict parliamentary rules and has already been declared, so it is fully transparent.”

Both Robertson and Davies have previously spoken in favour of the horse racing and gambling sector in the Commons, but advocated that the industry requires higher scrutiny.

Robertson said: “I have, of course, had registered interests in betting and horse racing for over 20 years and have always, and continue, to observe the strict parliamentary rules on such matters.

“Paid advocacy is, of course, rightly prohibited in parliament and my contract with the BGC rules out such practices anyway.”

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) have both stated that the planned review of the Gambling Act will see the government implement radical industry reforms focusing on consumer protections, operator compliance duties, betting advertising, affordability and enhancing safer gambling standards.

Attracting interest from central Downing Street figures such as Dominic Cummings and Munira Mirza – the director of the No10 Policy Unit – as well as a range of think tank groups from across the political spectrum, the extent to which the 2005 Gambling Act will be overhauled has remained a point of contention between government officials and the betting industry.

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