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Gambling: Sport

Volume 688: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What discussions they have had with the Gambling Commission about requiring betting organisations to conclude information-sharing agreements with sports governing bodies as a licence condition for accepting bets on those sports.

My Lords, discussions have taken place over a range of issues relating to sports and the Gambling Act. However, neither the Government nor the commission believe that enforcing a policy of this nature is necessary. The licensing arrangements are primarily for the proper regulation of gambling, not sporting events. Nevertheless, the Government have put in place statutory and non-statutory arrangements which provide protections for both sporting events and the betting product.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, which I fear the sports organisations will find rather disappointing. Is he aware that some very serious allegations have been made against four Premiership football managers who, according to the allegations and contrary to the rules of the Football Association, have been placing bets on Premiership matches amounting to millions of pounds with the Gibraltar-based bookmaker, Victor Chandler? The Football Association has attempted to investigate the matter but Victor Chandler flatly refuses to provide the information it needs in order to do so.

Does my noble friend agree that the integrity of sport is being compromised here and that this state of affairs can be dealt with only if the Gambling Commission insists as a licence condition that the betting organisations sign information exchange agreements with sports governing bodies so that there is complete transparency in the sports betting world?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, who has identified an issue of some concern. But it is for the Football Association to pursue this issue with rigour. Statutory constraints would be, and are, not only limited but almost negligible as regards offshore betting. As my noble friend identified, the company at present involved in these allegations is based in Gibraltar and outside our jurisdiction.

My Lords, that is precisely the point. Victor Chandler, the Gibraltar-based bookmaker in question, is based oversees and, therefore, there are considerable issues under the Gambling Act in being able to exercise any jurisdiction.

In July, the Sports Minister, Mr Caborn, said:

“While the Gambling Commission has no jurisdiction over betting operators licensed outside Great Britain, it is continuing to build upon its co-operative relationships with overseas gambling regulators”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/07/06, col. 98W.]

Does that mean anything? What is really happening? What is the Sports Minister really doing to try to exercise at lease some kind of informal control over these overseas betting operators?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord because he has identified the constructive position that the Government are adopting. With our 10-point plan, we are seeking to ensure that behaviour in this country meets the requirements of disclosure, and we are looking towards co-operation with other Governments and other gambling regulatory authorities to ensure that those based overseas meet the same standards as we expect in this country.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the International Cricket Council, the governing body for world cricket, has memoranda of understanding in place with many betting organisations around the world, including in the UK? Those arrangements have provided valuable information in the fight against match fixing and other corruption in betting in cricket. Will he therefore encourage such arrangements?

Indeed, my Lords, but cricket has the great benefit of an international governing body that can take up that stance and help the international response. The problem with football is that there is not quite the same degree of co-operation at the international level. We are all aware that abuses in Italy came to light last year and resulted in severe penalties for individuals and clubs. There is no doubt that the Government are wholly committed to the integrity of sport. The overall position is that we have established the 10-point plan for co-operation with the major sporting authorities, which does of course include cricket.

My Lords, the Minister was kind enough to mention integrity in sport. Is he able to give me some advice on one of the better scandals north of the Border? It is nothing to do with the Premier League, but concerns the club in which I have an interest, Forfar Athletic, which was made to play Peterhead with about eight sick men. I understand that the sum of £250,000 was placed on fixed-odds betting. Forfar lost 8-0. I am not sure what the payout was, but corruption does not necessarily have to be in the Premier League. Can the Minister give me some advice on what might be done and, above all, on whether the rules apply on both sides of the Border?

My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise that jurisdiction in the affairs of football and football clubs in Scotland is the priority of the Scottish Football Association. We are concerned, and in our 10-point plan, we are seeking to create standards across all sport in the United Kingdom as a whole to ensure that some of these practices are stamped out.

My Lords, I must declare an interest as chairman of Warrington Wolves, a rugby league club—and we are going to have a good season in 2007. In view of the disquiet that has been expressed here, would it not be as well to take up the suggestion that has been made of discussions between the Gambling Commission and sports, such as rugby league and others, in order to ensure that some of these instances do not arise and that the sports in question are not brought into disrepute?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding me of his role with Warrington Wolves. In that role he will recognise that the Government tread warily with regard to the extent to which they impose restrictions on sports organisations that have their own structures for guaranteeing the effective prosecution of sport. I can assure him that rugby league, too, has signed up to the 10-point plan and that we therefore have a framework which deals with these issues within the United Kingdom. However, I recognise that there are particular problems with betting conducted through organisations outside our jurisdiction.