Gambling: Sport

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:13 pm on 11 October 2007.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 3:13, 11 October 2007

My Lords, I agree with the House that my noble friend Lord Faulkner has introduced an important topic on the basis of his considerable expertise in this area. We recognise his work in developing the gambling legislation that he is now addressing and asking that we should utilise to provide solutions to some of these problems. The whole House is at one in agreeing that the integrity of sport could be threatened by illegitimate gambling and that it presents a real danger to every sport as well as to the ordinary individual who, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard, indicated, can be vulnerable to rogues who take advantage of the gullible.

The problem with gambling is that that the gambler, with the exception of a few professionals, always has an element of gullibility. That inevitable element is in the nature of taking on odds that others have presented for them. Both noble Lords from the Liberal Benches presented a strong argument on the need for integrity in sport. I know just how much the noble Lord, Lord Addington, values sport. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, demonstrated his enthusiasm for horse racing. Although I accept their strong representations and wish to show how the Government are responding to them, I reject the contention of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, that the Government's gambling policy has been disastrous. Far from it. He quoted the casinos issue; but we all know the history of that, which is scarcely relevant to this debate, anyway, and I am certainly not going to reiterate it. We all know why the casinos were presented as a problem in the rushed-through legislation just before the completion of the 2004-05 Parliament.

However, that legislation provided for the establishment of the Gambling Commission. As my noble and well informed friend Lord Faulkner, said, the Gambling Commission holds the key to ensuring integrity in sport and proper control of gambling. I reassure the noble Viscount that not only have the Government created and been responsible for a piece of legislation that gives us the instruments for controlling illegal gambling acts, but we are using it.

That is very important, because, even if there were no expansion of casinos and the Government stood idly by—and the Government do not have much to do with the free market of gambling, anyway—gambling is increasing, not just in the United Kingdom, but across all developed countries where disposable income is increasing. It is a corollary of increased resources and private wealth, because it is a luxury good. It is not essential, but it certainly attracts people's extra resources, because they find it an attractive leisure pursuit. Although at times, as the noble Lord, Lord James, was keen to emphasise, some of this activity takes place in bookmakers, which scarcely look like leisure centres, at this stage I cannot accept that bookmakers are becoming mini-casinos. I am prepared to accept that one or two enterprising ones might increase the number of fixed-odds betting terminals in their shops, but I do not think that we have abuse on the scale that the noble Lord mentioned.

I assure the noble Lord that the Gambling Commission will take the keenest interest in his suggestion that virtual racing may lead to rigged odds and corruption. That is what he described. It is an important point and he has done nothing but good in highlighting the issue in this debate, but I reassure him that the Gambling Commission is responsible for the proper conduct of bookmakers. That is an important dimension of its work, and he may have highlighted something to which the commission should direct its attention.

The crucial point put forward by all noble Lords in the debate and emphasised in the opening remarks of my noble friend Lord Faulkner is the need for co-operation and effective liaison between the sports bodies and betting organisations. The betting organisations know what is going on when they see clear irregularities and the sporting bodies are all too well aware of the way in which potential corruption can occur, so the link of information between those bodies is of the greatest significance. We created the Gambling Commission to fulfil that role, and I reassure my noble friend that it is a condition of the bookmakers' licence that they provide such a link with the sporting organisations. He has canvassed for that for a number of years and our legislation makes its realisation possible.

Tough new rules in the Gambling Act mean that decisive action can be taken against those who cheat. That is the basis of integrity in sport—a point that has been reflected in every contribution to this debate. A sport which loses its integrity loses the very concept of sport, and that is why cheating must be stamped out. Of course, cheating is reflected in illegal gambling where sporting endeavour is rigged.

The Government have not only been active with regard to the Gambling Act and are not just concerned that the Gambling Commission should fulfil its role. In 2005, the former Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn, established a 10-point plan to help uphold integrity in sports betting. The crucial themes underlying all those points is the important role of sports governing bodies, their relationship to bookmakers and the effective exchange of information.

The growth of online and offshore betting, which raises particular problems, was also identified. Of course, there are limitations on effective government action in relation to offshore betting that lies outside our jurisdiction. However, we regulate online betting in this country and, if punters bet with an online betting firm here, it is guaranteed to be subject to our regulation.

We are seeking to ensure that offshore betting meets the same standards as we set in the United Kingdom, although that is easier said than done. Some international jurisdictions clearly respond to this. States within the European Community play their part in ensuring such integrity, but we also know of locations where offshore betting can take place through online activity, and that is much more difficult to regulate. We are keeping a close eye on developments in that regard. The noble Lord, Lord James, indicated that control over advertising may be the key, and there is certainly potential for that. The Gambling Commission and the Government will look carefully at that if we think that the abuses justify it.

The betting industry is growing but, nevertheless, this country has the highest-developed sense of sporting ethics in the world. This country will not tolerate cheating, wherever it manifests itself. It has been necessary, through the gambling legislation, to ensure that there are effective channels between bookmakers, who are vulnerable to such cheating, and the organisations in sport which would be ruined if cheating became rife. They must work together to ensure that we have the necessary controls.

None of us can be complacent. That is why my noble friend introduced this debate today and why there have been such impassioned contributions from all sides of the House about the importance of the integrity of sport. Nevertheless, I emphasise that the Government take this issue very seriously. They have the weapons and the mechanisms for guaranteeing that we protect the high standards of sport and the high standards of the betting industry in this country.