A Tory MP who accused the gambling regulator of being too “heavy handed” has received more than £8,000 in hospitality and payments from the betting industry this year, including tickets to see Madonna.
The article was published five weeks after Whittaker attended a Madonna concert courtesy of the industry’s lobby group, the Betting & Gaming Council (BGC).
Whittaker hit out at the regulator over its ongoing consultation on introducing “affordability checks” for gamblers, a measure that campaigners say will prevent unsustainable losses, but which critics say are too intrusive and will drive punters to the hidden market, as well as depriving horse racing of revenues.
Whittaker wrote: “The Gambling Commission – the regulator – all too often takes a heavy-handed approach to their work, and at times strays beyond the boundaries set for them by the government.” .
He questioned why the commission was considering measures “that many say would almost inevitably lead to customers being forced to submit their payslips to gambling operators”.
The BGC has previously railed against affordability checks. A spokesperson said it had had nothing to do with Whittaker’s article.
The Madonna tickets, worth £2,148, take the amount of hospitality and payments that Whittaker has received from the gambling industry so far this year to £8,278, the parliamentary register of members’ interests shows.
The amount includes trips to Cheltenham racecourse, courtesy of SkyBet and the BGC, and a £5,000 fee from the BGC for eight hours’ work presenting two seminars. Whittaker said his views had not been influenced by the gifts and payments.
The gambling industry has increased its spending on hospitality and benefits for parliamentarians tenfold in recent years, amid a prolonged review that resulted earlier this year in government proposals to reform regulations governing the £10bn-a-year sector.
MPs’ receipt of gifts from the industry drew criticism from Liz Ritchie, who co-founded Gambling with Lives, a charity that supports families bereaved by gambling-related suicide, after her son Jack took his own life after becoming addicted to gambling.
“MPs who take thousands of pounds of gambling industry hospitality only to then go and publicly lobby against life-saving reforms need to meet with the families who’ve lost loved ones to gambling,” she said.
“You’d hope they’d see that the industry profits they are trying to protect mean little compared with the thousands of lives ruined every year.”
Matt Zarb-Cousin of the campaign group Clean Up Gambling said: “The gambling lobby clearly needs to lure MPs with hospitality to get them into the groove of defending the industry.
“If their arguments were convincing they wouldn’t get too hung up on lavishing MPs with gifts.”
Whittaker said the hospitality he received had never influenced his views on gambling.
“The answer to your enquiry is quite simple – I actually support the gambling sector and think on the whole the current direction of travel with the government white paper and consultations being held by the Gambling Commission, if enacted, will have the opposite intended consequence and drive more and more people to the black market,” he said.
“I genuinely believe a well-regulated sector, by and in harmony with, the Gambling Commission will benefit everyone. The sector, the customer, the thousands of employees and also make it a safer environment. Some of the things proposed will not achieve those aims.”
A spokesperson for the BGC said: “The ConHome article is a matter for Craig Whittaker and ConHome, and contrary to any wild conspiracy theory, it has obviously nothing to do with the BGC.”
Whittaker has previously been criticised after he spoke out against reform of the gambling industry during a Westminster Hall debate, without revealing that he had accepted tickets worth more than £3,000 to England’s Euro 2020 semi-final match from Entain, the owner of Ladbrokes and Coral.
He was not found to have breached parliamentary standards.