Will Watson keep bark­ing at bet­ting in­dus­try now?

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport -

When Tom Watson left Par­lia­ment, he de­clared that he was off “to pur­sue a new ca­reer as a trainee gym in­struc­tor”. It all sounded very whole­some.

Per­haps it was an at­tempt to move on from the grotesque, bo­gus pae­dophile ring in­ves­ti­ga­tion that he had be­come the cheer­leader of ?

It cer­tainly sounded bet­ter than say­ing he was off to pocket re­port­edly “less than £100K” from a gam­bling com­pany for giv­ing them the ben­e­fit of what he had learnt about the gam­bling in­dus­try while he was an MP.

So, why has Flut­ter, a £19 bil­lion gam­bling gi­ant that owns Bet­fair, Paddy Power, Sky Bet and Party Poker, en­gaged Watson? Is it be­cause it could not find any other ca­reer pro­fes­sional in the gam­bling in­dus­try who did not have a bet­ter knowl­edge of how to deal with prob­lem gam­bling than him?

Watson’s in­ter­est in gam­bling, as a par­lia­men­tar­ian, was only part time; he had many other in­ter­ests. So, it is a pretty damn­ing con­dem­na­tion of ex­ec­u­tives in the gam­ing sec­tor if Watson was gen­uinely the most knowl­edge­able per­son that Flut­ter could re­cruit, on what is pre­sum­ably a part-time ba­sis.

Per­haps, how­ever, it is the per­ceived political head cover that Flut­ter thinks it is buy­ing.

It will have hugely ben­e­fited from the lock­down, as far as re­cruit­ing new cus­tomers to its casino and poker games is con­cerned. But there re­mains a con­sid­er­able worry that the soli­tude and iso­la­tion of that pe­riod will have cre­ated a fright­en­ing num­ber of prob­lem gam­blers. Peo­ple whose lives may be blighted for ever. One hopes those peo­ple will now be a fo­cus of the next gov­ern­ment re­view of gam­bling laws. So, per­haps that is the main rea­son be­hind Watson’s ap­point­ment.

Flut­ter may think that pay­ing some­one who has been crit­i­cal of the gam­bling in­dus­try in the past, to ap­par­ently “look un­der their bon­net”, projects the im­age of a com­pany which wants to

“hold a mir­ror up to help us make sure we are get­ting this bal­ance right”.

It should, it may think, per­suade reg­u­la­tors to fo­cus else­where.

Carolyn Har­ris, the chair­woman of the all-party par­lia­men­tary group on gam­bling-re­lated harm, put it slightly dif­fer­ently. But one can feel where she is com­ing from when she said: “I would hope his ad­vice to his new em­ployer will be … to clean up their act as re­gards to how they treat vul­ner­a­ble gam­blers.” So, hardly an open-ended, un­qual­i­fied en­dorse­ment of his ap­point­ment.

There is, of course, an­other rea­son why Flut­ter may have re­cruited Watson; to lobby mem­bers on that all-party com­mit­tee on its be­half.

In fact, it rather smacks of for­mer deputy prime min­is­ter Nick Clegg’s re­cruit­ment by Face­book. Clegg, I have no doubt, was also crit­i­cal of that com­pany be­fore he took up his job there.

But once Mark Zucker­berg was pay­ing for his house and his life­style, did Clegg walk into his of­fice and say: “Look Zucker­berg … this place is a s--- show?” And has Face­book made any sig­nif­i­cant changes to the con­tent its al­lows on its site since Clegg started get­ting his pay cheque?

I shall leave you to draw your own con­clu­sions on that.

It is true that Watson was, in the past, a West­min­ster dog who barked loudly at the book­mak­ing in­dus­try. But now it is feed­ing him his din­ner, will he fall si­lent at his master’s bid­ding?

What Flut­ter should get for its “Watson money” is more, not less scru­tiny. Only time will tell.

The first two ma­jor year­ling sales in Europe at Deauville and Don­caster were com­pleted last week. There are many ways one can com­pare year-on-year sta­tis­tics, but the stark re­al­ity is that £15 mil­lion less was spent this year, com­pared to 2019; that rep­re­sents a drop of 25 per cent.

The most sig­nif­i­cant sale of the year will start at New­mar­ket on Oct 6. The suc­cess or fail­ure of that sale will re­volve around one man. Sheikh Mo­hammed Al Mak­toum.

If he is un­able to at­tend, which is pre­sum­ably al­most cer­tain, he is un­likely to match last year’s spend of 17,575,000 guineas. But he is also un­likely to turn his back on the sale. As his agent, Anthony Stroud, ob­served in Deauville, “the boss would like to sup­port [breed­ers] in a mea­sured way”.

So, for mere fi­nan­cial mor­tals, there might be some real value for money at New­mar­ket for the first time since 2008.

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