UK’s Conservative Party Hit by Betting Scandal in Fresh Blow to Sunak

The Prime Minister promised to ‘boot out’ anyone found to have broken gambling laws.

The Conservative Party of the United Kingdom has been hit by several allegations that top members placed bets on the general election date, scheduled for July 4, dealing a fresh blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is struggling to regain the trust of the public.

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Nick Mason, the Tory Party’s chief data officer, has taken a leave of absence while being investigated by the Gambling Commission for allegedly betting on the timing of the election with inside information before the date was announced, UK media reported on Sunday.

Several other Conservative figures have already been involved in the scandal. Tony Lee, the party’s director of campaigns, and his wife Laura Saunders are under investigation, along with Craig Williams, Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary. A police officer in Sunak’s close protection team is also being looked into over allegations.

A spokesman for the Gambling Commission said it was “investigating the possibility of offenses concerning the date of the election” and “the commission cannot provide any further details at this time.”

The main opposition Labour Party branded the fresh allegations “utterly extraordinary.” “Rishi Sunak promised integrity, professionalism and accountability, instead his weakness means he has overseen the same sleaze and scandal that have come to epitomize the last 14 years of Tory government,” a party spokeswoman said, urging Sunak to suspend all those implicated in the betting scandal.

Sunak was “incredibly angry” to learn of the allegations and promised to “boot out” anyone found to have broken gambling laws. Asked at a special election edition of BBC’s Question Time, he sid, “It’s a really serious matter – it’s right that they’re being investigated properly by the relevant law enforcement authorities.”

Fourth senior Tory official investigated in UK election betting scandal: Report https://t.co/F0jRQvqg80

— James Robertson (@JamesRo13411319) June 24, 2024

Sunak’s solemn words seem to fail to assuage the voters’ anger. The latest poll by Sky News showed that Labor leads over Conservatives by 21 points. The fury over the political betting also revealed a little-known sector of the UK’s gambling industry.

Compared to the amount wagered on sport, which was 25 billion pounds (about US$32 billion) last year, political betting takes much smaller in the gambling industry. However, it has grown fast, especially ahead of snap elections like this time.

In 1997, bookmakers estimated that up to 10 million pounds (about US$13 million) would be bet on the UK general election. One anonymous political betting expert said a UK election would be worth multiples of that now, in “tens of millions.”

Bookmakers have capitalized on punters’ growing appetite for political betting, with some offering a market on the results for all UK’s 650 constituencies up for grabs in the general election, as well as for political events around the world.

Observers pointed out that while betting odds might to some extent affect the outcome of political events like the elections, a major concern remains that political betting is open to cheating. In theory, those who bet on the date of the election with inside information could fall under the criminal offense of cheating under the Gambling Act 2005.

The latest incidents have undoubtedly further tarnished the image of the Conservative Party, following a string of Tory scandals including bullying, sexual misconduct and “partygate.” For Tories, the betting scandal is as bad as “partygate,” said Michael Gove, UK’s secretary for housing and communities.

“It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us… That was damaging at the time of Partygate and is damaging here,” said Gove.

Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to step down in mid-2022 after support for him evaporated over the “partygate” scandal. Revelations of him and his employees reveling in booze-fueled parties in 2020 and 2021 at Downing Street infuriated the British public.

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Source: Xinhua

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