Gambling: Sport

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:03 pm on 11 October 2007.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson in the Lords (Disability), Work & Pensions, Deputy Chief Whip, Spokesperson in the Lords (Sport), Culture, Media & Sport, Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence 3:03, 11 October 2007

My Lords, this is an important debate about the integrity of sport. Many noble Lords will have heard me wax lyrical about the importance of sport and inspiring people to take part in it, as getting people to take exercise is the answer to many health problems. People need an icon to live up to. I do not care very much about gambling. It does nothing for me but it is capable of removing the romance from sport, which means that people in our increasingly sedentary society will move away from it.

Even if we do not care whether people are swindled when betting we should look at what is going on in the worlds of betting and sport, because gambling is capable of damaging something which is taking on an increasingly important healthcare and social function in people's lives. Will the Government take every step they can to protect this part of our lives? It should not be a case of saying, "It does not matter what you do. We already know the outcome. Don't bother taking part. Let's do something more passive. I can't be bothered". That reason for addressing this question is at least as important as the idea that somebody might be swindled when they make a bet, if not more so.

Having worn my hair shirt, I ask what can be done here? If we are to control gambling and the effects it has on sport, we need to have as much openness and transparency about the process as possible. As we all know, corruption succeeds best when it takes place in dark corners when people are not watching. How can we get this out into the open? The internet with its online gambling may expose corrupt practice. I hope that this will be reflected in the way things are regulated. Who do we look to in order to ensure that we are getting a fair result and protecting the integrity of sport?

The horse racing authority probably has the greatest expertise because it has probably had to deal with this problem longer than anyone else. I do not suggest that racing is particularly corrupt; that is probably not the case because it is subject to scrutiny. However, one should look at what has happened historically. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, mentioned the ancient Greek games. It was not just the ancient Olympics; all their games were subject to corruption. However, the anecdote that I like best concerns the state of cricket in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Much more money was bet on it than on horse racing and it was infinitely more corrupt. We can corrupt just about anything. Please can we make sure that we open up the whole process?

In the briefing I received for this debate it was suggested that if we can try to get away from betting shops recording who places bets in the form of a paper ticket and cash, we would have a far better tool to control this process. We should make sure that people record where bets come from and know where the flows of money come from and where the corruption is. I am sure that the betting industry will not like that suggestion and may view it as an intrusion, but the information would not have to be shared with anybody other than the two bodies involved in the transaction unless corruption was at issue. Certainly, there is no reason why a wife or husband should find out whether their spouse is placing bets, unless the latter is corrupt and gets caught. Surely such a process would be a way forward.

I reiterate that it is not the case that betting itself needs to be protected, rather it is the things which are attached to it. If we corrupt the ideology behind sport, we damage a social good. I hope that the Government will encourage the Gambling Commission to look at best practice where it exists and to take this problem seriously. The concept of corruption has always existed, as has the temptation. The only thing that changes is the way that we deal with it and ensuring that it is dealt with appropriately.