Militant anti-gambling MPs have called for UK betting firms to pay back millions of pounds they received in emergency furlough cash from the government to protect their businesses and workers during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
The MPs, leaders of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm (APPG-GRH), have specifically targeted high street bookies Ladbrokes–owned by the Entain Group—and Cheshire-based Betfred demanding they each pay back over £100 million received in furlough payments.
“The greed of these companies, that derive vast profits from addicted gamblers, never ceases to amaze,” Conservative MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, APPG-GRH Vice Chair, told iGaming Future.
“Any company with a clear sense of morality would immediately hand this money back to the UK taxpayer,” added the one-time Tory leader and longstanding MP for north-east London’s Chingford and Wood Green constituency.
The furlough programme–officially called the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme—ran from March 19, 2020 until the end of September last year.
In all, the scheme supported an estimated 11.5 million British workers, paying 80 per cent of their wages, totalling around £50 billion (US$67.8bn/€59.8bn).
Ladbrokes claimed total furlough payments of £101.5 million (US$137.6m/€121.4m) for the 14,000 staff in their 2,850 shops shuttered during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Rivals Betfred received £112.1 million between March 2020 and May last year (US$152m/€134m).
But because online betting and iGaming has boomed during the pandemic the APPG-GRH MPs argue that the gambling giants should repay the furlough cash.
Multi-channel Entain, for example, recorded a profit of £175 million in 2020 (US$237.2m/€209.3m) on revenues of £3.6 billion (US$4.88bn/€4.3bn).
And Betfred’s profits rose from £171million (US$231.8m/€204.5m) to £205 million in the year to September 2020 (US$278m/€245.2m).
Alleged Fat Cats
APPG-GRH Chair Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East, was reported in the media as saying: “Pandemic support was designed to help desperate firms survive — not bolster the pockets of gambling fat cats.
“Ladbrokes and Betfred must follow the lead of industry rivals and pay back these enormous sums.”
Despite repeated contact with both her parliamentary and constituency offices, Ms. Harris, Deputy Leader of the Welsh Labour Party, refused to talk to iGF.
Both Ladbrokes and Betfred, meanwhile, declined to get involved in a slanging match with their political critics.
A company spokesperson for Ladbrokes told us: “The furlough scheme was a sensible and highly welcome policy intervention that helped us, as one of the country’s largest retailers, to maintain the livelihoods of more than 14,000 retail colleagues on full pay.
“Whilst the virus is still with us and the outlook, although improving, is still far from certain, the Board will continue to keep the situation under review.”
Warrington-headquartered Betfred, for their part, stressed: “Thanks to the scheme, we have not had to make a single redundancy due to the pandemic.”
Covid in the UK may be turning from pandemic to endemic but this is unlikely to be the last word on the furlough controversy.