Well that’s a turn up for the books!
When he was deputy leader of the Labour party, Tom Watson was severally critical of the gambling industry, calling for serious change on a number of occasions.
Now, just a year after resigning due to not getting along with Jeremy Corbyn, he has signed a contract with Flutter, the operating group of Paddy Power, Betfair, Sky Bet, and others, for a sum quoted as “less than six figures”.
Well that could be £10k or it could be £99k, but the amount isn’t really the point. Is this the biggest U-turn in history, or is there more to this appointment than meets the eye?
Tom Watson’s Role at Flutter
We are being a little disingenuous here perhaps, because Tom Watson’s role is as an advisor to the board, guiding them on best practice in shops, marketing, anti-money laundering and customer service.
The long time reformist has said that the position will allow him to get “under the bonnet” of the company and that he truly believes his positions will allow him to “continue to drive positive change”.
Flutter’s CEO, Peter Jackson (not the same guy who directed Lord of the Rings), said:
“Tom will hold a mirror up to help us make sure we are getting this balance right and I welcome the opportunity to work with him and hear what he has to say in coming months.”
So it does sound as though both parties are committed to making the industry a safer one, and Mr. Watson has made it clear that the job will only work if there is “good intent on both sides”.
The appointment has been hailed a “smart move” by David Zefferman of Gambling Law firm CMS, who noted that Mr. Watson was not an extremist despite being vocal about the industry’s short comings, and that his proposals were often “not foolish”.
Before resigning from the Labour party Mr. Watson had drawn up plans detailing big changes for the industry, a complete overhaul, including the creation of a gambling ombudsman to monitor consumer activity.
He was particularly concerned about how closely gambling firms were connected with football, claiming that TV audiences were swamped with gambling adverts, and he also called for £100 million to be donated by betting companies to problem gambling research. This suggestion was taken up by Bet365, Flutter, GVC, and William Hill.
He can also be credited with the often repeated phrase:
“UK gambling laws are no longer fit for a digital age”
Indeed, while still an MP he was instrumental in convincing a cross party group of MP’s to ensure that the 2005 Gambling Act is reformed to make it more beneficial for the consumer than the business, and task that is still ongoing.
With all this in mind, it does seem as though the motivation behind taking the job comes from a place of wanting to improve things, and this might well be the first step towards some very positive changes.
Tom Watson, if you are reading this (he definitely is), as far as we are concerned your integrity remains intact!