Senior gambling industry figures have apologised for â€œaggressivelyâ€ lobbying a senior Scottish politician for private meetings when he began an inquiry into the regulation of betting terminals.
Kevin Stewart, an SNP MSP and convener of Holyroodâ€™s local government committee, said that the betting industry had been all over him â€œlike a rashâ€ since the committee began its inquiry into the proliferation of fixed odds betting terminals.
When he rebuffed their advances and advised them to contribute to the public scrutiny, he said that the response from the industry body Senet â€” set up to promote responsible gambling â€” was â€œaggressiveâ€.
William Hill then sent a representative to track Mr Stewart down at the SNP conference in Aberdeen last month, the MSP said.
The death of Lee Murphy, 37, from Inverurie, who lost Â£900 in 20 minutes and about Â£30,000 in a year is being linked by his family to the growing ease of access to the terminals. The high-stakes machines allow punters to bet up to Â£100 every 20 seconds on computer-generated versions of casino games.
During heated exchanges at the Holyrood committee yesterday, Andrew Lyman, William Hillâ€™s director of regulatory affairs, said that Mr Stewart was â€œprobably rightâ€ to reject the industryâ€™s advances at the conference.
John Heaton, the chief executive of Scotbet, apologised on Senetâ€™s behalf for the perception that it was being overly aggressive.
Mr Stewart said: â€œI had never heard of Senet until recently, until suddenly they wanted to talk to me.
â€œI wonder why that is. A cynic would maybe say it was because we were conducting this inquiry â€” and on this occasion I am a cynic.
â€œWhen I said, â€˜No, not until after this inquiry was dealt with, because everyone has the opportunity to put in written submissions and may be called to give evidenceâ€™, the response was fairly aggressive.â€
Mr Heaton said: â€œI apologise for the reaction that you appear to have got from Senet.
â€œWe have tried to make sure that it is an independent organisation. The board are all independent, the management are independent. If you feel they are being overly aggressive then we will certainly take that back to them.â€
Mr Stewart said: â€œDoes the betting industry understand the term â€˜Noâ€™? None of your industry has been really interested in what Iâ€™ve had to say previously, and then suddenly theyâ€™re all over you like a rash.
â€œWhen I said no, your folk donâ€™t quit do they?â€
Simon Thomas, the chief executive of the Hippodrome Casino in London, compared advocates of the fixed-odds betting terminals to tobacco companies that persistently disputed the link between smoking and lung cancer.
He said: â€œIâ€™m sure the bookmakers are putting a lot of money into algorithms, but the algorithms are used to promote the business.
â€œI joined two of the bookmakers, as M Mouse and D Duck, gave my phone number and email address, and I am bombarded daily with adverts and pressure to spend money on offers.
â€œAdditionally, the staff who are supposed to carry out all of this supervision and player interaction following any algorithm popping up from behind their bandit screen, some of the bookmakers are actually incentivised on the machineâ€™s performance.
â€œSo aside from being minimum wage, late at night, often female with a lot of things to do, theyâ€™re also told they will get more money if the machines take more money. It doesnâ€™t add up.