John Penrose MP should have had a very good understanding of FOBTs, as when he was at DCMS he was responsible for arranging the sale of the Tote to Betfred, a bargain for Fred Done, but a disaster for Tote staff. FOBTs had been introduced illegally, but the government owned Tote itself and had been operating them prior to the 2005 Gambling Act’s legitimisation of FOBTs as category B2 machines.
A recent Times article exposed that Mr. Penrose enjoyed the bookies’ sporting hospitality on 13 different occasions, including a visit to Royal Ascot.
Mr. Penrose has a record of staunch defense of FOBTs. At a Tory party conference, he was seen in a heated exchange at the Campaign for Fairer Gambling booth. He was upset that the Campaign was describing FOBTs as “the most addictive form of gambling”. If he had looked at the DCMS and Gambling Commission approved 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey and the secondary research based upon it, then he would have known that this description is factual.
An observer of the exchange made an interesting disclosure after Mr. Penrose moved on. The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) had held a private event at Tory conference and Mr. Penrose was seated in the small audience. In his speech, Dirk Vennix, the ex-CEO of the ABB and ex- Director of Communications at the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, stated: “You scratch our back – and we will scratch yours.”
After being an ex- Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DCMS, Mr. Penrose is now Lord Commissioner (HM Treasury) (Whip) and Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office, which was reported to have recently blocked a DCMS review of FOBTs. Whichever way you look at it, bookies and politicians doing a bit of back-scratching is not a pretty sight!