Gambling: Sport

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 11 October 2007.

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Photo of Lord Howard of Rising Lord Howard of Rising Shadow Minister, Culture, Media & Sport 3:08, 11 October 2007

My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for introducing the debate.

The Government's gambling policy was rushed through your Lordships' House just before the 2005 election—and it shows. Many problems that have arisen could have been avoided by a proper examination in this House, although if gambling is promoted as it has been by this Government, it is inevitable that problems will arise.

To me it is inconceivable that a Government aspiring to be honest or responsible should seek to benefit from human weakness, as this Government are doing by trying to make Britain the gambling capital of the world, but that is not what we are debating today. The report has many sensible suggestions which will make cheating more difficult. As noble Lords have pointed out, much can be done by sport's governing bodies to eliminate undesirable betting practices. If there is gambling on any scale on sporting events, there will be those who try to alter the odds in their favour. It is a fact of life.

Any bet requires two parties to the transaction. Historically, betting on sport has been controlled by constant and rigorous monitoring of those accepting bets, such as bookmakers, and the monitoring of the sports themselves. With more gambling and more diverse forms of betting, control becomes increasingly difficult. Internet betting, with the ability to make contact with huge numbers of inexperienced punters, makes the possibilities for foul play virtually limitless. No longer will those seeking to gain an unfair advantage be betting against professionals such as bookmakers and casino operators who have the knowledge and ability to detect misdoing; they will be betting against members of the public who will be considerably more gullible and will rarely have the resources to retaliate if they have been taken advantage of. Taking advantage when betting on sport is easy and, unless large sums of money are involved, virtually undetectable. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, gave several examples, such as the number of cricketers wearing sunglasses.

One step that has not been mentioned would make a significant difference: curtailing severely online betting. This could be achieved by forbidding the use of credit cards to pay for internet gambling. There would be ways around this, but, generally speaking, only seasoned gamblers would bother. If the ability to contact other gamblers on a large scale is limited by pushing the public towards gambling on sport through licensed operators, then policing the sport becomes considerably easier. The limited number of licence holders would make it easier to monitor one side of the betting transaction; the other half of the transaction would be monitored by the licence holders by looking at and adjusting the odds of the bets placed with them on a minute-by-minute basis to protect themselves from being stung. That would be a rapid and flexible method of detecting wrongdoing.

As well as the many good ideas in this excellent report, I suggest that preventing rogues getting instant contact with large numbers of inexperienced and gullible gamblers would be the single most effective way of limiting corruption on sports betting.