[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair] — Online Gambling

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:15 am on 18th March 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Selby 10:15 am, 18th March 2009

I inherited from my late father a number of things, one of which was a William Hill telephone betting account. He would have been very pleased that it was in credit at the time of his death; it contained £7.33. I love gambling, and I make the occasional modest return. I have guarded my father's inheritance well.

I am not an online better, but I am an avid reader of politicalbetting.com. I recommend it to the House, as it is one of the best commentaries on political odds—who is likely to win the next election, or who is likely to be the next leader of a party. Indeed, political betting is a growing part of online betting.

In a previous debate, Mr. Foster laid out the tremendous economic potential of online betting. In many ways, the Government were ahead of the game when they set up the present regulatory regime under the Gambling Act 2005. However, although the Gambling Commission is four times bigger than its predecessor body, not many of its staff regulate online gambling.

A report about the commission's performance is to be published soon; we are looking forward to the Hampton review, as the commission has not undertaken a study of online gambling. There may be a variety of reasons for that. Tax may be one. That subject has not yet been mentioned, but the tax on online gambling is 15 per cent., which could tempt many online operators to go offshore.

The Government were very progressive a few years ago when they abolished betting tax. The replacement tax has led to an increase in revenue. That was a brave move. I believe that we should integrate tax policy with regulation policy; otherwise, many in the Gambling Commission will be sitting around waiting for people to come onshore. So far, they have not done so in large numbers.

My personal friend and neighbour, Mr. Greenway, said that a code across Europe is essential so that those who operate in the European Union meet common standards. Equally, I support Mr. Field in asking the Government robustly to defend our regulatory regime in cases such as the Betfair one.

I exempt my hon. Friend and fellow Bradford City supporter, the Minister, from this accusation, but because of all the political fuss that took place over the Gambling Act, I believe that the Government are reluctant to engage with gambling issues. When civil servants bring files on gambling to Ministers, many of them less knowledgeable than the Sports Minister, they must be tempted to put them in a far-away tray, as they are fearful of engaging with gambling issues.

It is some time since the Gambling Act was passed. I call upon the Government to defend our regulatory regime and to argue in Europe for tough codes that the whole of Europe will abide by. The situation will change worldwide, and I predict—perhaps I shall place an online bet—that, in President Obama's first term, US regulation and law will change, because arguments have already begun there about how prohibition does not work. Indeed, many of the problems with sports betting, which is completely unregulated in the US, and to which Dr. Gibson referred, are far worse there than in the UK.