Calling Bullsh*t on Bloomberg - Part One
On the 1st December 2022, the Bloomberg website published an article, snappily entitled ‘Britain Opened the Door to Online Gambling. Now It’s Living With the Consequences. Six years ago, a gambling executive sounded the alarm about smartphone casinos. But in the years since, the industry has boomed — as has its lobbying of UK lawmakers’. Its authors, Gavin Finch, Harry Wilson and Ann Choi, get my award for 2022’s most laughable piece of anti-gambling claptrap published and that is in very strong field, given Rob Davies of the Daily Mail of the Left, the Guardian, persistently telling half-truths in an attempt to flog his book (currently 270,592nd in the Kindle Store).
Because it is so full of inaccuracies, I have decided to do more than one pull apart and there will be another article on this criminal assault on good journalism in the future, if I have the strength. I’m not saying that the Betting & Gaming Council sitting with £537,609 in the bank as of 31/10/2021, should spend some of it rebutting half-truths like this, I am demanding it! Letting the internet fill up with anti-gambling propaganda like this, leaving it unchallenged, gives those who hate us more material to lobby with. Just look at Lord Foster spreading the lies about suicide numbers due to the bullsh*t pumped out by Public Health England, at least he apologised for it. As I have said before, we are in a war and a key part of that is propaganda and so far we are losing it.
The Bloomberg article does what many other articles have done previously, mostly written in the Guardian of course, and implied that a) we have a massive problem gambling problem (we don’t) and b) the reason for government not introducing a massive clampdown on gambling (which the puritans want) is that the gambling industry is lobbying like crazy and spending millions on Members of Parliament to convince them otherwise. This belief in an all-powerful gambling industry which successfully manipulates Westminster to its whims can be found in the Public Health approach to Gambling credo (of which more in a later article), abounded at the time of the passing of the Gambling Act in 2004/05 and is blatantly bullsh*t, as all you have to do is look at the sorry state that industry is in.
The article states:
Successive UK governments have done little to tighten the rules in the last decade, as an ever-increasing number of politicians have developed closer ties to the industry. Many lawmakers who have spoken out against increased regulation have also accepted thousands of pounds in hospitality from gambling companies, and regularly receive free tickets to top-flight sporting events, as well as lucrative speaking gigs and even second jobs, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of lawmakers’ financial disclosures. The government announced a review of gambling legislation in 2019, but has delayed publishing its findings at least four times. This summer, after intensive lobbying, officials in Boris Johnson’s administration watered down or removed several measures originally contained in the review, according to people familiar with the situation.
The article provides a graphic entitled: ‘What Lawmakers Get From the Gambling Industry - Amount received from betting and horse racing companies and bosses since 2010’. It then gives a circle graph, where the size of the circle supposedly reflects the size of the amount of money received by the 21 MPs, 16 Conservative and 5 Labour, from the gambling industry. It gives as a note: ‘Note: Data for current Conservative and Labour lawmakers only; includes gifts, donations and employment.’ and gives as its source: ‘Source: Bloomberg analysis of parliamentary records’.
Rather serendipitously, Sky News in conjunction with Tortoise Media launched ‘Westminster Accounts’ on the 8th January 2023. The MediaShotz website describes this as: ‘a first-of-its-kind searchable database that makes it easy for the public to examine the millions of pounds pouring into British politics. Commissioned by Sky News, data experts at Tortoise Media have systematically collected and analysed many thousands of donations and payment records from MPs, political parties, and all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs).The resulting database is an extensive record of the financial interests in Westminster’.
What this does is allow us to compare the work of Bloomberg and Westminster Accounts. I’m not saying either is more correct, just that by the number of factual inaccuracies in the Bloomberg article, I wouldn’t trust the Bloomberg interns (as I guess they are) from telling me its raining if they were half way up to their necks in a puddle during monsoon season.
Oddly, Bloomberg don’t ever actually state the total amount of money they argue has been given to Labour and Conservative MPs since 2010. You have to add it up and it’s a massive: £407,000 or an average of £19,380.95 per MP and since this is for 11 years, an average of £1,761.90 per MP per year. You may already be beginning to realise that unless our Members of Parliament are willing to be bought for the cost of a Boyce 3 Seater Sofa Bed from DFS, this doesn’t quite look like scandal Bloomberg is making it out to be. To add to the stink about the Bloomberg article is the inclusion of private donations to Keir Starmer MP and Rachel Reeves MP, the leader of the Labour Party and the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. These personal donations were made by publicly known Labour supporting individuals, Peter Coates, father of Denise Coates, Director of Bet365, Neil Goulden, one time Chair of Gamesys, and Richard Flint, one time CEO of Sky Betting & Gaming. Bloomberg do provide in the notes:
‘Goulden says that he is “no longer involved in the gambling industry” and has “no interest at all” in it. He made two £10,000 donations to Reeves after his retirement from Gamesys in October 2021. “I am a huge supporter of the current Labour Party and Rachel Reeves,” he said.’
Which does lead us to the first question, should individuals involved in the gambling industry be allowed to donate to individual MP’s? In their individual capacity are they showing political support, their democratic right, or does it have to be taken as a form of influence on behalf of the gambling industry?
The same question, I suspect could be posed, to the anti-gambling brigade. One of their principal funders, Derek Webb, Las Vegas based multi-millionaire casino-games salesman, like Neil Goulden, donated £10,000 to the Labour Party on 03/03/2021, according to the Electoral Commission. He donated £97,000 in three goes to Tom Watson MP from 2015-2018, when he was Labour’s Deputy leader and from 2016 gambling spokesman, publishing his report on gambling and the need for further restrictions in 2018. In April 2015, he donated £25,000 to the Shipley CLP Labour Party, the candidate fighting Philip Davies MP, then Chair of the Parliamentary All Party Betting & Gaming Group in the May General Election. Prior to that, apart from £5,000 to Tom Watson MP in 2014, Derek Webb seems to have been a big Liberal Democrat supporter, donating £397,000 to either the central Party or individual constituencies from 2011- 2015.
Unfortunately, the Bloomberg article provides no detail apart from MPs names and the alleged amount they have received from the gambling and racing industry. Fortunately, Westminster Accounts does give us some detail, names of donors and recipients, amounts but no dates. Unfortunately, even though Westminster Accounts have scoured The Register of Members’ Financial Interests (for members of Parliament), The Register of All-Party Parliamentary Groups (for APPGs) and The Electoral Commission’s database (for political parties), they have only done it from December 2019, so it is only relevant for the last four years. With Bloomberg saying they have gone back to 2010, it means we cannot do a like for like comparison.
What we can do is look at these four years to give us a detailed look at the level of contributions the gambling industry make to Members of Parliament and see if this is reflected by the Bloomberg article. What I did is look at all 21 MPs listed by Bloomberg and then check the contributions (earnings, donations and gifts) they received from the gambling industry and then did a bit of analysis.
First let’s look at who received what according to Bloomberg (2010-22) and Westminster Accounts (2019-22):
Bloomberg Westminster Accounts
Laurence Robertson MP £ 107,000 £ 79,850
Philip Davies MP £ 90,000 £ 67,370
Helen Grant MP £ 35,000 £ 10,940
Rachel Reeves MP £ 30,000 £ 31,960
Keir Starmer MP £ 25,000 £ 25,000
Esther Mcvey MP £ 16,000 £ 7,080
John Whittingdale MP £ 14,000 £ 12,160
Conor Mcginn MP £ 12,000 £ 9,150
Aaron Bell MP £ 9,000 £ 9,260
Nigel Adams MP £ 9,000 £ 7,400
Scott Benton MP £ 9,000 £ 8,640
Graham Brady MP £ 7,000 £ 5,270
Chris Grayling MP £ 6,000 £ 1,200
Mark Jenkinson MP £ 6,000 £ 6,860
Craig Whittaker MP £ 6,000 £ 5,920
Alec Shelbrooke MP £ 6,000 £ 500
Toby Perkins MP £ 6,000 £ 4,580
Ben Wallace MP £ 4,000 £ 3,750
John Spellar MP £ 4,000 £ 1,710
Priti Patel MP £ 3,000 £ -
Chris Heaton Harris MP £ 3,000 £ 3,330
Total £ 407,000 £ 301,930
The first thing to notice is the variance, the average total contribution by the industry per year for Bloomberg is £37,000 (£407,000 ÷ 11) while for Westminster Accounts its £75,482 (£301,930 ÷ 4), just over double. Given what little we know about the Bloomberg methodology, it is impossible to know why this is. Maybe Bloomberg have under-reported or maybe gambling industry contributions have ramped up since the announcement of the Gambling Review?
The next thing to realise is just how skewed the data is. The top 5 MPs (23% of the total) represent 71% of the total amount contributed.
This is where the whole allegation about gambling industry influence begins to fall apart, as the majority of the amount contributed is either wages or a personal political donation, as discussed above. I believe we can dismiss the personal donations to Keir Starmer MP and Rachel Reeves MP as a) they were not directly responsible for gambling policy and are in opposition, and b) those donating are well known Labour Party supporters of long standing and c) in the case of Neil Goulden and Richard Flint were not working in the gambling industry at the time of the donation. That’s 13.5% of Bloomberg’s total and 18.2% of Westminster Account’s excused. The next category for excusing is employment, which accounts for the next 29.4% of the Bloomberg total and 39.6% of the Westminster Accounts total.
Five MPs have been employed (been paid earnings) by gambling industry related organisations over the Westminster Accounts time period of 2019-2022. Laurence Robertson MP, according to Westminster Accounts, has been paid £51,740 by the Betting & Gaming Council (BGC). At a professional consulting rate of £350 p.h. that equates to just under 148 hours work, or an average of 37 hours a year, if this has been spread out over the four years, which it can’t be certain. This is hardly getting in the way of his work as an MP, either way, and as the MP for Cheltenham Racecourse and Chair of the Parliamentary All Party Racing & Bloodstock Group, it’s understandable why the BGC would want to hire him and for him to be our highest earner.
Next, is the indefatigable defender of the gambling industry, Philip Davies MP. Philip, an ex-bookmaker, was for many years the House’s most vociferous supporter of gambling, a member of the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee and the Chair of the Parliamentary All Party Betting & Gaming Group, which he gave up for employment from GVC (now Entain). They paid him £49,980 in total, which at our going rate is nearly 143 hours work, or about a week’s work a year. Again, hardly getting in the way of his work for the good people of Shipley.
I have to point out that I have worked with both Laurence and Philip over the years and in every meeting, the first thing that came out of their mouth when in employment, was a public declaration that they were in said employment. No one in Westminster is in any doubt about their allegiances and no one is in any doubt that their defence of the gambling and racing industry would be just as resolute with or without their employment.
The next three MPs look very much like they were employed for one off consulting or speaking gigs due to the size of the numbers involved. Helen Grant MP was paid £10,240 by the Tote, John Whittingdale MP was paid £6,000 by the BGC and Conor McGinn MP was paid £1,850 by Jockey Club Racecourses. Helen Grant MP and John Whittingdale MP have both been the Minister responsible for gambling in their time, but wouldn’t be allowed external employment when in post. John Whittingdale MP was Chair of the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee for ten years but gave that up in 2015. Conor McGinn MP is MP for Haydock Park Racecourse and best friends with Michael Dugher, CEO of the BGC. We can only suspect that their employment was for their knowledge and experience of the machinations of government when it comes to gambling, whether in a report or in a speech. As with Robertson and Davies, they will have declared their employment during any Parliamentary debate or meeting and their earnings are made public.
This leads us to the next question this topic brings up, should MPs be allowed outside earnings on top of their MPs salary? This is very topical at the moment with Keir Starmer MP recently stating that a Labour Government would ban it except for media work. I, personally, can see the advantages, MPs get experience and understanding of the world outside Westminster and the disadvantages, it allows for monetary influence of MPs and distracts them from their job as MPs. In the case of our 5 earning MPs, I sincerely believe that they have suffered none of the disadvantages and all of the advantages. I see nothing wrong with MPs learning more about the gambling industry. These MPs were not anti-gambling to start with. We could do with some of the more voracious anti-gamblers working in the industry to get an education as much of their hatred for what we do is based on the inaccuracies and lies pedalled by puritanical propagandists like Bloomberg and the Guardian.
What do we have left, after removing fatuous personal donations and understandable employment:
Total Gifts Average Gift
Laurence Robertson MP £ 28,110 £ 2,343
Philip Davies MP £ 17,390 £ 2,174
Aaron Bell MP £ 9,260 £ 2,315
Scott Benton MP £ 8,640 £ 2,880
Nigel Adams MP £ 7,400 £ 2,467
Conor Mcginn MP £ 7,300 £ 2,433
Esther Mcvey MP £ 7,080 £ 1,770
Mark Jenkinson MP £ 6,860 £ 3,430
John Whittingdale MP £ 6,160 £ 3,080
Craig Whittaker MP £ 5,920 £ 2,960
Graham Brady MP £ 5,270 £ 2,635
Toby Perkins MP £ 4,580 £ 2,290
Ben Wallace MP £ 3,750 £ 1,875
Chris Heaton Harris MP £ 3,330 £ 1,665
Rachel Reeves MP £ 1,960 £ 1,960
John Spellar MP £ 1,710 £ 1,710
Chris Grayling MP £ 1,200 £ 1,200
Helen Grant MP £ 700 £ 700
Alec Shelbrooke MP £ 500 £ 500
Keir Starmer MP £ - £ -
Priti Patel MP £ - £ -
Total / Average £ 127,120 £ 2,019
It should be stated that the term gift is used here because it is used in the Bloomberg article. To get pedantic, Parliament’s The Code of Conduct together with the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members, uses the term gift in the context of ‘clothing or jewellery’ and I don’t think this is the case. Although neither Bloomberg or Westminster Accounts detail what the ‘gifts’ are, I believe they refer to, as the Parliamentary rulebook says:
a) event or travel tickets;
b) hospitality in the UK, including receptions, meals and accommodation
As the Bloomberg article states:
Many lawmakers who have spoken out against increased regulation have also accepted thousands of pounds in hospitality from gambling companies, and regularly receive free tickets to top-flight sporting events, as well as lucrative speaking gigs and even second jobs, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of lawmakers’ financial disclosures
This is blatant hyporbole but I do believe that our 19 out of 21 listed MPs have enjoyed hospitality at some of our wonderful 59 racecourses. Part of the reason for saying this is that the average size of the gifts our MPs received falls well within the price bracket of racecourse hospitality. Cheltenham racecourse is currently selling hospitality packages for a day at the fabulous Cheltenham Festival for between £420 and £1,350. Epsom Racecourse is selling hospitality packages on Deby Day for between £679 and £1,299. A less premier event could be at Ffos Las Racecourse, which doesn’t publish its prices but its where Carolyn Harris MP, Puritan in Chief and Chair of the anti-gambling Parliamentary All Party Group on Gambling Harms accepted a £300 gift from. I suspect that it not just horseracing that MPs get to enjoy. Wembley Stadium’s One Twenty Club offers you a VIP package for £11,910 per season which works out at £1,323 per match. Hospitality for England v Scotland at Twickenham on the 4th February is selling from £799 to £1,499 not including VAT. Now take into account that the gift size is a total of all the gifts given by just one donor, so this may be a number of hospitality events spread over the four years and travel and accommodation may have been included. But again, if we take away our key men, Laurence Robertson MP and Philip Davies MP, who would probably be taking on a semi-host role at the hospitality given their employment, our MPs are going to less than a handful of racedays each.
If we look at the organisations who contributed ‘gifts’ to the 19 MPs, in Bloomberg’s list, according to Westminster Accounts, there were 17 of them. The top five contributors were Entain with ‘gifts’ of £44,250 split between Entain Holdings and Entain Operations, the Betting & Gaming Council with £38,840, Gamesys with £9,190, Power Leisure with £7,840 and the Jockey Club with £3,830. The average total ‘gifts’ of the remaining 12 organisations was £1,931.
What this tells us is that the trade association for British gambling and one of the country’s biggest gambling operators have paid for a relatively small number of hospitality packages over the last four years, with a relatively small number of other organisations entertaining an even smaller number of our 19 MPs. While this is illuminating, the obvious flaw with this analysis is that we have limited our research to just ‘gifts’ to the 19 MPs (of 21) listed by Bloomberg. If we take a reverse approach and calculate the amount of ‘gifts’ given by the founding BGC members; Bet365, Flutter, Gamesys, Entain, William Hill and 888 UK Limited we get to a total of £68,920.
To put this in context, according to Westminster Accounts:
Camelot UK Lotteries Ltd. gave £62,970 to just three politicians. Rob Butler MP, earned £61,000 and Lucy Powell MP and Jeff Smith MP received £1,970 worth of gifts.
Sir Ian Duncan Smith , a chief anti-gambler, earned £62,730 from two private healthcare related technology companies.
Derek Webb donated £120,000 in financial benefits to the Parliamentary All Party Group on Gambling Harms. Mr Webb also bankrolls the Peers for Gambling Reform group in the House of Lords, which Westminster Accounts doesn’t cover.Webb has also funded many of the reports used as ‘evidence’ in the gambling debate, the most recent being those produced by the Social Market Foundation (SMF).
This leads us to the final question, does anyone really believe that a politician’s political beliefs about gambling are going to be swayed by being invited to attend a horseracing festival? Of the 19 MPs who received hospitality on the Bloomberg list, four (Laurence Robertson MP, Chris Grayling MP, Alec Shelbrooke MP & Conor McGinn MP) have racecourses in their constituencies. Two have previously worked for bookmakers (Philip Davies MP, Aaron Bell MP). Two have been the Minister responsible for gambling (Helen Grant MP, John Whittingdale MP). A further two not mentioned already, are members of the Parliamentary All Party Betting and Gaming Group (Scott Benton MP (Chair) and Chris Whittaker MP). The other nine undoubtedly had reasons for being invited that I couldn’t be bothered to research. But what it does show is that its hardly an effort to sway opinions that haven’t been formed yet and looks entirely like people who like racing accepting an invitation to go racing. For example, Ben Wallace MP, on the Bloomberg list, has been Defence Secretary throughout the Westminster Accounts period, so has no input on gambling and represents the constituency of Wyre and Preston North which has no racecourse but is close to the gambling delights of Blackpool, Scott Benton’s constituency (Blackpool South). Wallace has only four gifts that he's received in the time period; racing: £3,450 in gifts or benefits from Entain and £300 in gifts or benefits from The Jockey Club, Formula 1: £1,510 in gifts or benefits from Motorsport UK, and rugby: £400 in gifts or benefits from Scottish Rugby Union. To my mind this makes Ben Wallace MP a fan of sport, accepting hospitality given to MPs.
Should MPs be given hospitality? Definitely, it’s the way they get to meet people in industry, charities etc. One of the biggest hospitality events of the year for MPs is the Great British Kebab Awards. They even have MPs on judging panel, including the previously mentioned chief puritan Carolyn Harris MP, who like her colleagues Sir Mark Hendrick MP and Mark Menzies MP, are on the Board of the Parliamentary All Party Group for Gambling Harms and opposed to gambling, but have all accepted gifts from the gambling and racing industry. Does anyone think that by attending or even judging the Great British Kebab Awards that MPs will be influenced in the way kebab shops are regulated? No and no serious person, who isn’t ideologically blinkered, thinks that hospitality is anything more than it is. A way for politicians to meet and greet, to interact with the wider world that involves entertainment and food and drink. Our politicians work very hard, in terrible conditions (Parliament is falling down) and a chance to escape is much needed. But giving hospitality does not mean you receive political favours. The Rt Hon Mark Drakeford MS, the First Minister of Wales was provided with a five star hotel when he attended the World Cup in Qatar last year. Can someone please tell me what political favour Drakeford convinced the Welsh government to bestow on Qatar in response?
In conclusion, I would argue that the British gambling industry is not spending enough lobbying politicians. At this time when the anti-gambling forces are ascendant. A foreign-based multi-millionaire is spending hundreds of thousands. When the industry’s money, donated for Research Education and Treatment through GambleAware has been spent on research that is anti-gambling, the industry needs to dig deep. We need every MP to be offered hospitality and shown how much fun gambling is and dispel the myths that the anti-gambling brigade keep perpetuating about our industry.
 Regulus Partners, Winning Post newsletter, 04/12/22
 For Gambling Act passing examples see Daily Mail, 21/10/04, 23/10/04, 25/10/04, 30/10/04. Daily Telegraph, 22/10/04, 25/10/04. Times, 22/10/04, 26/10/04, 27/10/04. Sunday Express, 24/10/04 Independent on Sunday, 24/10/04, Observer, 24/10/04. Sunday Times, 24/10/04. Sunday Telegraph, 24/10/04, 28/10/04. Guardian, 25/10/04, 26/10/04. Independent, 25/10/04. Daily Express, 25/10/04. Financial Times, 26/10/04
 Carolyn Harris MP £300 from Ffos Las Racecourse, Sir Mark Hendrick £1470 from the BGC, Mark Menzies £700 gifts from Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club