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Will Tom Watson keep barking at the betting industry now? 

It is a damning condemnation of executives in the sector if former Labour deputy leader is most knowledgeable person Flutter could recruit

Tom Watson
Tom Watson’s interest in gambling, as a parliamentarian, was only part-time Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

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 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 it 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.

Value for money for we mere mortals

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.