Two Black Country MPs insisted there was no problem accepting invitations to sporting events from the gambling industry, despite widespread concerns about the influence of betting companies in football and other sports. John Spellar, Labor MP for Warley, has received £2,800 Euro 2020 and cricket tickets from Power Leisure Bookmakers and the Betting and Gaming Council, while Tory MP for Dudley South Mike Wood has been invited to a Premier League match worth £430 by the Betting and Gaming Council in the past year.
Details of the gifts were included in the latest Register of MPs’ Financial Interests, where all donations received by MPs are reported. Politicians have every right to attend such events, but questions have already been raised as to whether it is appropriate for MPs to accept gifts from gambling companies and organizations given that parliamentarians have the power to reduce industry involvement in sport.
The association between sport – especially football – and gambling has been a long-standing concern. Many Premier League teams now have betting companies as shirt sponsors, while gambling adverts during televised matches have become commonplace.
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Former Black Country MP and deputy Labor leader Tom Watson was among the leading voices campaigning to limit the influence of gambling companies in football, amid concerns over overexposure of children and teenagers . Gambling reform groups have accused the companies of waging a ‘charm offensive’ on MPs by giving them freebies at high-profile sporting events.
More than 35 MPs received gifts from the gaming industry worth tens of thousands of pounds during the last parliamentary session, records show. But Mr Wood dismissed any suggestion that there might be conflict of interest issues if it came to voting on gambling legislation.
He said: “Watching a half game at Chelsea really doesn’t change my perspective on playing in sport. Obviously people like to have fun in sports matches or races. It’s important to have strong controls in place.
“People can watch what they spend and safeguards are in place to ensure anyone at risk of addiction can get help.” He added: “I also meet with anti-gambling groups over coffee in my office and obviously listen to what people have to say.”
Sandwell MP Mr Spellar said: “A properly regulated gambling industry is extremely important. There is clearly a high demand and the vast majority of people gamble responsibly.
“The industry is also very supportive of the sport, especially horse racing. A properly regulated industry is the best way to ensure it is not run by criminals. The real danger of not having a properly regulated industry is a huge black market and we don’t want that to happen here.”