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Lord Glentoran: I have tabled my Amendments Nos. 67 and 68—which are virtually one and the same—as serious probing amendments and as
 
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examples of the extent to which one might wish to go to prevent, or attempt to prevent, any effect from betting on the 2012 Olympic Games. I declare an interest as a director of an online betting company called Bet on Sport plc, which floats on the stock market in London, and so I have a small amount of knowledge about these matters.

When looking at the issue of gambling in relation to the 2012 Olympics, one has to consider the effect it may have on the athletes. In professional games such as football, which the noble Lord mentioned, horseracing and other sports, we know that within the United Kingdom there is a small amount—and probably a larger amount outside—of what I call cheating. That includes bribery of the athlete or the sportsman concerned to either break the rules or perform less well, to help the other side in one way or another or to bend the result, if I may use that phrase. In dealing with that problem, I may be naive in some areas but I do not think that I am when it comes to the Olympic Games.

Let me introduce the issue of drugs. The use of performance-enhancing drugs in the Olympic Games and most sports is still a serious problem. Athletes take performance-enhancing drugs at considerable risk to themselves, both physically and legally, and certainly career-wise. Why do they do it? They do it because of the value of winning. The Olympic Games are all about winning but not completely about getting a gold medal. Coming in the first six or getting into the final can make a huge difference to an athlete's future career, depending on where he or she is in the structure.

I am not saying that no athlete could ever be bent by a potential bet—perhaps an old pro who has been around a long time and thinks he has a last chance of making it—but I would not like to be the person placing the bet. It would not be a good bet. The point I am making is that athletes in the Olympic Games have one desire and burning ambition—to produce a result, to win, and so they are highly unlikely to be got at by would-be punters. Hence, that removes 95 per cent of the chance of gambling on athletes in the Olympic Games causing cheating.

The next thing is the reality of attempting to prevent all gambling or betting taking place in the 2012 Olympics—even if we decided that it was the right thing to do. Something over 75 per cent of betting today takes place on the Internet. Not even the Americans have managed to control the Internet in any tiny way. Our company gets 70 per cent of its revenue from North America—from sports betting on North American football league, baseball, hockey and college sport. In North America it is illegal to use the telephone wires to bet. There is something called the Wire Act, from 1969 or thereabouts. The Americans have been trying for a long time to enforce their regulations against such use, and they have totally and absolutely failed. They were taken by Antigua to the World Trade Organisation for restriction of trade and lost—and appealed and lost again, to little Antigua. That is the power of the Internet—and most gambling
 
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and sports betting is done through the Internet. One of the other ways in which to attack it is to attack the banks.

Another issue that we must consider is that if we attempt to restrict betting in this country on the Olympic Games by making it illegal for companies that operate within GB, we are legislating unfairly against them because we have removed their possibilities. The big boys will not bother, as they have offshore stations anyway, but the little boys and the smaller people will suffer.

Lastly, I make the point that we have the Gambling Commission, which the gambling industry in this country heartily supports. People from the industry may lobby the commission and argue with it, but the industry wants to be well regulated and operate an environment that is strictly and tightly regulated, which does all that it can to remove the risk of cheating and an unequal playing field. So as much as I would like to think that we can insert my Amendments Nos. 67 and 68, I am really trying to make it clear to Members of the Committee that it is totally unrealistic to think that the proposals could actually be enforced in any meaningful way. I beg to move.

6 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions. My noble friend Lord Pendry has focused on an issue that concerns us all, especially with regard to the Olympic Games, because we are all aware that the international Olympic movement sets high standards and follows high ideals. The noble Lord was absolutely right when he described the dangers that betting can bring to sport and the fact that, mercifully, aspects of the Olympics have steered clear of a great deal of that. Certainly the greatest scandals have occurred in other sports, but that is not to under-estimate the challenge that faces us all with regard to corruption or cheating. We want to play the fullest possible part in ensuring that the Olympic Games lives up to their ideals. We have the same attitude towards other sport as well.

That is why, when it came to gambling, we tackled this issue in the only way we see as effective. The Gambling Commission, set up by the Gambling Act 2005, has the key objective of keeping gambling crime-free. Otherwise, gambling potentially interferes with the process of sport and renders the whole concept meaningless. The commission regulates all British-licensed bookmakers and remote betting businesses and has a range of powers at its disposal. It will work closely with the sporting and Olympic authorities to minimise threats to the integrity of the games.

We do not believe that we need further legislation for this. We have a functional, active body to deal with gambling and keep it fair. Although I fully subscribe to the sentiments of my noble friend Lord Pendry and his warning about betting in relation to the Olympic Games is timely, we are equipped to do all that we can. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, showed us how that ability was restricted. We have no plans to legislate to
 
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restrict betting on the Olympics or any other sporting event because we do not think we have the capacity to do so.

In ensuring that the sporting events are free of corruption and have integrity in the competition between athletes and sportsmen of all kinds, the onus must be on the governing bodies to monitor and control their sports. I know what my noble friend is thinking of when he says that governing bodies ought not to be left alone to do this and asks why the Government cannot give additional assistance. In terms of integrity on the field of play or in the arena, that is for the governing bodies to control.

We can ensure that gambling is fair and that those organising it do not cheat. But we cannot see how we could ban gambling on sporting events. There are enormous practical difficulties in restricting betting on the Olympics and attempting to do so could be harmful. As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, indicated, we might drive abroad or underground that which at the moment in this country is explicit, clear and capable of being regulated.

Any move to restrict gambling would simply drive punters to the Internet sites. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, dramatically indicated what percentage already exists on those sites. Once they are there, offshore, on the Internet, they are beyond any controls of our Gambling Commission. Not only would we fail to prevent betting on the Olympics, we would not be able to enforce the law on the activity of betting through the powers exercised by the Gambling Commission. It has the power to void bets on any event where it is satisfied that the bet is substantially unfair. This would include instances where either party to the bet had been convicted of cheating. If the commission considers that it may want to void a bet, it has the power also to suspend that bet and to investigate. Under the Gambling Act, it has the capacity to prosecute, so that an individual faces up to
 
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two years in prison for cheating. Those are substantial deterrents that offer protection against cheating. They therefore aid sport in those terms.

That is the most that we can do. To suggest that we ban betting is to ask us to do that which is not realistic. My noble friend wisely and properly raised the issue in the context of this Bill, because we intend to make sure that we work closely with the International Olympic Committee and LOCOG during the coming months on betting so that we can tighten up the situation as far as possible. We have the power in the Gambling Act and by way of the Gambling Commission to do what we need to do. We do not need any amendment to this Bill.

On the other front, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, used his amendments to identify clearly how dangerous it would be to think that we could set about banning betting. That would merely ensure that betting went on outside the jurisdiction of this country.


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