Therese Coffey MP went out to bat for the bookmakers once more, after David’s Cameron’s former speechwriter Clare Foges delivered a scathing attack on fixed odds betting terminals in the Daily Mail. “If our leaders had any guts, they’d ban these betting machines that enslave the poor,” she opined last month, citing their illegal introduction to betting shops, a recent suicide linked to the machines, a Scottish committee’s demand for them to be banned and 93 councils backing a reduction in the maximum stake from £100 to £2 a spin.
But bookie-supporting Ms. Coffey was not convinced. Responding to Ms. Foges on Twitter, she asked: “Any reason you didn’t look at UK Parliament Select Committee report on this? Because it came out with a different conclusion?” Ms. Foges responded: “I did. I don’t agree with its conclusion that what’s needed is removing the cap on FOBTs. Avoiding the central problem… and the hospitality enjoyed by committee members slightly undermines the credibility of the report too.”
In 2012, the Select Committee recommended permitting bookies more than four FOBTs per shop, and included Therese Coffey, who enjoyed a trip to Macau, yet only found the time to visit one betting shop on a chaperoned visit. It later emerged that Philip Davies had not declared hospitality from Ladbrokes before he quizzed the CEO of Ladbrokes during the committee inquiry, as well as a “subscription” of almost £5,000 a year from a company linked to BetFred.
The bookies aren’t afraid of underhand lobbying tactics. The Guardian last week revealed that the head of the Responsible Gambling Trust at the time Ms. Coffey was helping draft the Select Committee report was also lobbying for the bookmakers as well as taking charge of research into yes – you guessed it – FOBTs.
The protracted spat between Ms. Coffey and Ms. Foges continued, with Ms. Coffey responding: “but yet you put a lot of weight on Scottish Parliament report to back up your view; I understand your view but limited evidence”. To which Ms. Foges responded: “No, I put weight on other evidence. E.g. last British gambling prevalence survey – showed FOBTs most addictive form of gambling”.
Indeed, secondary research on the two most recent British Gambling Prevalence Surveys found that FOBTs are the form of gambling most closely associated with problem gambling, and that problem gamblers spend the most time and money on FOBTs – more than several leading gambling activities combined.
Ms. Coffey is aware of this research, but chose to misrepresent it in a Parliamentary debate in 2013, falsely claiming that it did not support the view that FOBTs are particularly addictive. She is also a member of the Free Enterprise Group, which is supported by the Institute of Economic Affairs – a “think tank” funded by the tobacco industry, and which does not declare who their donors are. In 2013 the IEA produced a report downplaying the capacity of FOBTs to induce addiction. Could this have been the fruits of a donation from the bookies?
Perhaps Ms. Coffey shouldn’t rely solely on the bookmakers and the IEA for her briefings. It might be inferred that she enjoys the freebies a little too much!