Skip to main content

Gambling Act 2005 (Amendment of Schedule 6) Order 2012

Volume 737: debated on Wednesday 13 June 2012

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Gambling Act 2005 (Amendment of Schedule 6) Order 2012.

Relevant documents: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, the legislation that we are considering here this afternoon is concerned with Schedule 6 to the Gambling Act 2005, which lists the sports governing bodies and regulatory bodies with which the Gambling Commission may exchange information. The order under scrutiny is intended, first, to add a number of new organisations to the list so as to widen the range of sports covered, and, secondly, to update the list.

The British general public is well accustomed to betting on sport. Sophisticated legal betting markets currently operate through traditional outlets such as bookmakers and betting shops, and by remote means through the internet and by telephone. The main responsibility for the collection and collation of intelligence relating to suspicious sports betting rests with the Gambling Commission, specifically through its sports betting intelligence unit. The commission undertakes investigations into suspected criminal activity in its own right and in collaboration with the police, and it has a range of investigative powers to enable this work.

Exchange of information between the Gambling Commission and sports governing bodies is essential to the fight against sports betting corruption, which is harmful both to sport itself and to the associated sports and betting markets, as it allows suspicious betting patterns to be identified and dealt with in order to avoid or prevent match fixing. The mechanism for this is provided by the Gambling Act 2005, where Schedule 6 lists a range of sports governing bodies and regulatory organisations for the purpose of exchanging information with the Gambling Commission. Information can be exchanged with organisations not included in Schedule 6, but such cases require individual legal opinions that take time and are expensive. Unless the organisations are listed on the schedule, there is also a limit to the information the Gambling Commission can pass on in such cases.

The order under scrutiny this afternoon adds to the list of sports governing bodies with which the Gambling Commission can exchange information, so as to widen the scope of its coverage and strengthen its response to sports betting integrity threats wherever the need should arise. There is also some simple tidying work to update the list to reflect changes in the organisational structure and names of some sports and regulatory organisations that are currently on the schedule but are no longer correct.

I do not propose to list the changes here—these are evident in the order—but I shall briefly set out the broad rationale behind the changes. Before I do, though, let me just say that I fully appreciate the strong feelings that some noble Lords may have about sports integrity and betting corruption. There are, of course, many wider concerns raised by this subject, all of which deserve thorough examination, but that must be for another time. Given the time constraints on us today, I fear that we would not be able to do these concerns justice.

The impetus for this review stems from the International Olympic Committee’s request that it be added to Schedule 6 in advance of the London 2012 Games in case threats to betting integrity should arise during the Games. I stress that no specific illegal betting threat to the Games has been identified, but the Government agreed with the IOC that it was sensible to take such a precaution. Should such an incident occur, it could be most damaging to the reputation of both the United Kingdom and the 2012 Olympic Games.

As the list of sports governing bodies in Schedule 6 has not been updated since the Gambling Act was drafted, now is also a good time to add other relevant national and international governing bodies in order to ensure better coverage of the main sports in the UK and to better reflect the sports governing bodies with which the Gambling Commission now regularly deals.

The amendments that we are looking at today include a range of UK sports governing bodies covering bowls, darts, squash, hockey, motor sports and the London marathon. Your Lordships may not immediately associate these sports with the possibility of betting corruption, and I stress again that there is no immediate concern in these areas. This is really an exercise in crystal ball gazing and trying to anticipate where any risk to sports integrity might arise in the future. The inclusion of these governing bodies is based on the advice of the Gambling Commission, which has undertaken a thorough risk analysis that draws greatly on the experience and knowledge of its Sports Betting Intelligence Unit.

Noble Lords will also note that the amendments include a number of international sports governing bodies. These go beyond just the International Olympic Committee to cover football, rugby, tennis, snooker, cricket and athletics, among others. Again, their inclusion is based on the advice of the Gambling Commission. Its Sports Betting Intelligence Unit has up to now liaised with a lot of the international sports governing bodies’ equivalents—for example, FIFA, UEFA and the ICC—on betting integrity cases. It therefore makes sense to include these bodies in the list. The sports they govern should be represented by domestic sports governing bodies; it would none the less be useful to have their international equivalents included.

Finally, it is very sad that betting provides an opportunity and incentive to corrupt sport. This may result in the inappropriate use of inside information or interference with the outcome of an event. In turn, this can have an impact on the public’s confidence in the fairness of sporting results. As the betting market develops and the range of betting opportunities increases, it is right that we look to the future to make certain that the response mechanism is fit for purpose and addresses such threats, should they arise. These amendments are a proactive means of strengthening this response mechanism. The ability of the commission and a sports governing body to respond to a sports betting integrity threat at a faster pace is crucial. We sincerely hope that this will result in a lower incidence of gambling corruption and a more managed response to any match-fixing scandal that occurs. This, in turn, can give the public the reassurance they need about the fairness of any sporting contest.

I look forward to the debate and to your Lordships’ contributions. I commend the order to the Committee.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation of the proposed changes to Schedule 6. In response, I begin by making it clear that we absolutely share the Government’s determination to crack down on illegal gambling and to work with the Gambling Commission to root out organised criminal behaviour and illegal payments to sports men and women. The UK currently has an unrivalled reputation for high standards of integrity in sport and it is in all our interests to keep it that way.

We also acknowledge the important role that legitimate UK betting companies play in creating jobs and contributing to the economy. With this in mind, we understand that the lists of individual sports and the sports governing bodies covered by the requirements to exchange information with the Gambling Commission will need to be updated and refreshed from time to time. We also support this approach, which is in keeping with the spirit of the Act, rather than the alternative option, which was to introduce broad classifications of those covered by the Act.

However, I have a couple of questions that I hope the Minister will be able to deal with. First, as a general point, she said that she did not want to talk about wider gambling issues, but we know that the sports betting industry is increasingly moving offshore and online, with an estimated value globally of over £200 billion. The steps that we are taking today with this schedule mean very little if we do not effectively regulate the global online gambling market. I know that the Minister, John Penrose, announced in July last year that proposals would be brought forward to legislate on remote gambling, so can the Minister update us on the progress of these proposals and when we are likely to be able to consider them in this House?

Secondly, with the London Olympics imminent and the obvious need to maintain the reputation of British sports as relatively corruption-free, we do not have a problem with adding the International Olympic Committee to the list of organisations with which the Gambling Commission will liaise, but how will these new links work alongside any information that is already shared with LOCOG and the British Olympic Committee? Will the IOC have a responsibility to alert them to any investigations that it is pursuing, and is there a clear demarcation in responsibilities between the umbrella sports bodies and the individual sports governing bodies? How will they ensure that they are all kept in the loop?

Is it clear who has the prime responsibility for investigating allegations of betting corruption and illegal payments? Will it be made clear to the new bodies that are being added to the schedule that they will need to have a list of betting rules in place to enable them to investigate and take action against those breaching the rules? Has any thought been given to the additional resources that those individual sports will need to police their sports effectively, particularly during the intense period of the Olympic Games themselves?

After the Olympics are over, what will be the ongoing relationship between the Gambling Commission and the IOC as preparations are made for the next Games in 2016? Will the commission’s jurisdiction continue to be limited to activities within the UK’s borders, or will it be expected to play a wider role in sharing global information in the run-up to Rio? Moreover, I understand the need to form links with the international sports bodies, but are the relationships and responsibilities formally set out in some kind of agreement? Inevitably, the more bodies that are added to the Gambling Commission’s list of organisations that it liaises with, the more scope there is for confusion between the roles. Will the Minister reassure me that these are clearly defined?

I cannot help speculating about the need to include bowls in the list of sports with which the Gambling Commission will exchange information in future. The Minister said that there were no obvious or known incidents of corrupt betting in all the organisations that are going to be added, but is there any regular betting at all in bowls? Has the bowling governing body signed up to being regulated in this way? Inevitably, after all, this has responsibilities and implications for that body, if only in the filling out of regulatory forms and so on. It all seems a long way from the rather gentle image of local bowls clubs up and down the country that we know and love.

Those are my only questions, which are points of detail. I reiterate that we broadly support the thrust of what the order and the revised schedule seek to achieve, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her thoughtful contribution on the amendment to Schedule 6. I shall start by trying to answer the several relevant and constructive questions that she asked. She mentioned the remote gambling proposals, which Mr John Penrose announced in Parliament last July. As noble Lords are only too aware, the legislative programme is very full and we are pursuing all options, but I reassure the noble Baroness that the Government are committed to these proposals. I am sure she understands that I cannot give her an exact date.

The noble Baroness asked several questions about the process involved for the London Olympic Games in July 2012 and the new links. The responsibility for betting issues in the Games will come under the Joint Assessment Unit, which consists of the IOC, the Gambling Commission and the Metropolitan Police. LOCOG will not be part of the assessment process but will be involved in any communication activity involving the media.

On investigations, the information disclosed to the BOA, LOCOG and anyone else involved will be on a case-by-case basis and will depend on the nature of the incident and the assessments carried out by the Joint Assessment Unit. Once it becomes clear that an incident is likely to be reported in the media, the IOC will lead the communications strategy on sports betting integrity issues.

As with all cases, the Gambling Commission will inform the relevant national or international sports governing body. All domestic sports governing bodies have responsibility for issues within their remit, but if the investigation becomes cross-border it is likely that the international body will intervene. For example, FIFA has intervened on match-fixing issues in several European football leagues.

If a potential threat is identified, the Joint Assessment Unit will support the IOC or the police in deciding whether further action is justified. If an investigation is required, the Joint Assessment Unit will decide who will take the lead. It is possible that both a criminal investigation and a sports investigation will run simultaneously, depending on the nature of the potential incident.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, was concerned about the future. Looking beyond London 2012, the Gambling Commission’s jurisdiction extends only to Great Britain, but the addition of the IOC to Schedule 6 will continue to allow the sharing of appropriate information in the run-up to the 2016 Games in Rio, which the noble Baroness asked about, and beyond. The Gambling Commission’s sports betting integrity unit will be involved with the new sports governing bodies that are added to Schedule 6 and will advise them of the need to have some form of betting rules in place, although there is no obligation to do so.

The sports betting integrity unit has developed good working relationships with several international sports governing bodies, including FIFA, UEFA and the ICC. Memoranda of understanding have been set up to facilitate information sharing, but these are subject to Data Protection Act rules and are not legally binding. Finally, I am not certain whether the noble Baroness is a bowls player but there has been a sports betting integrity case in relation to bowls and it was therefore included in the schedule. No additional resources will be required by the sports governing bodies.

These amendments are not just about making certain that the Government fulfil the International Olympic Committee’s request that sports betting should be included in Schedule 6 to the Gambling Act. It is a wider commitment; the Gambling Act is the principle mechanism through which the sports betting market can be monitored for irregular betting patterns, allowing the relevant enforcement authorities to tackle criminal sports corruption effectively. There might be concerns from some noble Lords here today about potential burdens arising from an expansion of the list, so I seek to reassure the noble Baroness and other noble Lords that no new burdens will be created by these amendments. In fact, these amendments will reduce the burden on the Gambling Commission, as costly legal advice will no longer need to be sought in relation to the organisations in Schedule 6, and the process of dealing with such cases will be speeded up considerably.

Following the noble Baroness’s contributions today, I sense that we are united in trying to make the world of sport a fairer place. The amendments to Schedule 6 will further the ultimate aim of protecting the integrity of sport, as well as the sports market and sports gambling market interests associated with it. They will continue to make sport enjoyable both for those participating in it and for those watching it.

Motion agreed.