Tom Watson has been branded a “fantasist” after suggesting pro-gambling Tory MPs successfully lobbied the Government to delay new laws on fixed-odds betting machines.
The Labour deputy leader alleged that Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright had “delayed FOBTs stake reduction” from £100 to £2 after a meeting with Tory MPs Philip Davies, who chairs the all-party parliamentary betting and gaming group (APPG), and Laurence Robertson, who has previously accepted hospitality worth thousands of pounds from bookmakers.
Mr Watson shared a response to a written ministerial question on social media which revealed a meeting had taken place between the three MPs on October 10.
Speaking to the Press Association, he said that Mr Wright needed to “come clean” about what was discussed, but Mr Davies dismissed the accusations of lobbying as “fantasy”.
He said: “He’s a fantasist, any allegation he makes is not true.
“I’ll run through what happened again, when the decision was made to reduce the stakes to £2 Matt Hancock rang me up personally as the chair of the APPG gaming group
“He said he knew I did not agree and he wanted to tell me it would not impact until April 2020.
“As far as I was concerned the decision was already taken.
“When Jeremy Wright came in he spoke to me and Laurence and told us out of courtesy he was minded to introduce the change in 2019, that’s it.”
Mr Watson said: “Three weeks before delaying the cut in FOBTs stakes, betraying those who have campaigned for many years for change, he met with backbench MPs who have received thousands of pounds worth of hospitality from bookmakers and have argued against this change every step of the way.
“Those of us who supported the Government when it made the original stake cut announcement were dismayed and disappointed by the new Secretary of State’s decision to go back on the Government’s word.
“He must now come clean about what was discussed in this meeting and release the discredited KPMG report prepared for the Association of British Bookmakers that has influenced this decision.”
The latest register of MPs’ interests shows that Mr Davies received more than £300 in hospitality from Sky Betting and Gaming in August, and Mr Robertson received hospitality worth £300 from Ladbrokes in January, among other declarations.
The comments come two weeks after sports minister Tracey Crouch resigned over the issue, suggesting, like Mr Watson, that pro-gambling MPs had influenced policy.
Ms Crouch said she had been working under the assumption that the new maximum stake of £2 every 20 seconds would be introduced in April 2019.
Ms Crouch, after her resignation, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “There have been conversations that have taken place with many members of Parliament with different interests and, as I say, on this occasion, clearly I wasn’t as persuasive as some of my other colleagues.”
A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “In October 2019, the maximum stakes on all FOBT machines will be cut from £100 to £2.
“This is a significant change that will help stop extreme losses and protect the most vulnerable in our society.
“We consulted widely with interested parties – including charities and all parts of the gambling industry – before considering all of the evidence and making a final decision.”