UKGC Probing More Election Bets After Sunak Aide Snafu

Posted on: June 18, 2024, 04:33h. 

Last updated on: June 19, 2024, 10:17h.

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has written to domestic betting operators asking them to examine all substantial bets made on the likelihood of a national election occurring in July.

Craig Williams, election bet, Rishi Sunak. UKGC, UK general election
Craig Williams MP, left, placed a bet on the likelihood of a general election three days before his boss, PM Rishi Sunak, right, called it. Now, the UKGC wants to know if additional suspicious bets occurred. (Image: The Independent)

That’s after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s closest aide, Craig Williams, was found to have placed a bet on that eventuality just three days before Sunak announced a shock July 4 ballot to decide the next government.

The election announcement was unexpected. Under UK law, national elections (known as general elections) must be held no more than five years apart, but their timing is otherwise determined by the prime minister. Sunak was under no obligation to call an election until December 2015.

It’s unclear how the decision was strategically advantageous to the prime minister whose Conservative Party has been trailing in the polls since the start of 2022. Bookmaker Paddy Power has odds of an opposition Labour Party victory at 1/200, an implied probability of 99.5%.

Error of Judgment

Nevertheless, the unexpectedness of Sunak’s decision allowed Williams to get 5-1 on a £100 (US$128) bet. Williams, who will be standing in the election as an MP for Montgomeryshire, Wales, has refused to say whether he was party to insider information when he made the bet. Nor has he denied it.

If he was, it could be a criminal offense, and one that could involve a prison sentence.

Williams told the BBC last week he had made a “huge error of judgment,” but declined to expand, citing an ongoing independent investigation by the UKGC. Meanwhile, the UKGC wants to know if anyone else linked to Sunak or his chief aide has made a similar error of judgment at UK sportsbooks.

While political betting is illegal in the US, it’s OK in the UK, although it remains a relatively small market.

That also makes it one that’s easy to monitor, and betting companies are hyper-vigilant about any prop bet where the result might be known to a small group of people in advance. For the same reason, most US states where sports betting is legal won’t allow betting on the Oscars, for example.

Politically Exposed

Under anti-money laundering regulations, sportsbooks must also pay close attention when they identify politicians using their services. “Politically exposed persons” carry a greater risk of involvement in bribery or corruption, and therefore money laundering.

It’s terrible optics for the Conservatives’ tanking election campaign, which has adopted the tagline “professionalism, integrity and accountability.”

Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds described the allegation that Williams was using privileged information as “extremely serious.”  

“If this is true, then he has no place on the Conservative benches, if he is to win his seat. Even the suggestion of this – which could amount to cheating, a criminal offense under the Gambling Act – is deeply corrosive to trust in politics,” she said.