As UK Parliament Boils Over Brexit, MPs Express ‘Outrage’ as Betting Bosses Swerve Gambling Hearing

Posted on: September 3, 2019, 05:15h. 

Last updated on: September 3, 2019, 07:48h.

British parliament may have its hands full with the latest round of Brexit upheaval. But some members took time out from the turmoil this week to express their exasperation with betting industry chiefs for blowing them off on an online gambling hearing, scheduled Wednesday.

Brexit betting
UK parliament is in meltdown as PM Boris Johnson is defeated on Brexit and calls for a general election. Meanwhile, MPs find time to berate the betting industry for missing a meeting. (Image: Reuters)

Westminster is still reeling from new prime minister Boris Johnson’s decision to shut down parliament for five weeks next week — a process known as “proroguing” — as part of a risky political gambit to force through a potentially dangerous and disorderly no-deal Brexit.

The move has been criticized by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn as a “constitutional outrage” in the cradle of parliamentary democracy.

Late Tuesday, UK time, lawmakers voted for the second time against leaving the EU without a deal – a humiliating defeat for Johnson — prompting the PM to call for a general election.

‘Running Scared’

Nevertheless, for now at least, the business of government goes on. Wednesday’s hearing exploring the dangers of online betting will still be attended by the respective CEOs of Bet365 and SkyBet. But three of the major players will be conspicuous by their absence, having backed out of a potential grilling by legislators.

Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on gambling harm, has suggested the CEOs are “running scared.”

These are men who run companies that feed addiction, amass vast profits from the vulnerable, and take home huge pay packets. Yet they are too afraid to appear before MPs,” Harris told The Guardian. “They seem to think they have better things to do than to explain their actions publicly. They are running scared and their actions are cowardly in the extreme.”

Harris’ Labour Party was responsible for developing the regulatory framework to which today’s betting industry must abide through the enactment of the UK Gambling Act in 2005.

But some legislators now believe those rules were too liberal. Reforms have been pushed through and more have been threatened.

Meanwhile, many operators have been fined by the UK Gambling Regulator for compliance failures.

Bettor Things to Do?

According to The Guardian, GVC boss Kenny Alexander was the first to bail on the hearing, citing “business commitments” – although he has promised to attend a separate hearing in the House of Lords.

The following day, William Hill CEO Philip Bowcock followed suit, blaming “commitments around licensing in the UK and some shareholder meetings” – however, he has sent his managing director of online betting in the UK and Ireland, Phil Walker, in his stead.

Flutter chief Peter Jackson cancelled a week later due to “unforeseen travel.” But the company will be represented at the hearing by the CEO of European Operations for the Paddy Power and Betfair brands, Dan Taylor.

Brexit Betting

Meanwhile, all these companies will be offering odds on the chaos currently raging in the UK parliament.

Paddy Power on Monday announced, presciently, it had suspended odds on a snap general election being called.

Odds on a no-deal Brexit are at their shortest ever since the Brexit referendum of 2016, now standing at 15/8.

Despite Johnson’s bloody-minded brinkmanship, it’s still a slight outsider.

Meanwhile, in a worst-case scenario, Paddy Power has KFC to close UK outlets due to a chicken shortage in 2019 at 11/4.