No 10 gambling adviser a former betting firm boss
Boris Johnson’s policy chief in Number 10 is leading the fight against gambling reform despite being a former boss of Sky Bet, the Mail can reveal.
Andrew Griffith, 51, was Sky’s finance chief between 2008 and 2019, and is now trying to kill off proposals that campaigners say are life-saving, insiders told the Mail.
A Mail investigation published this week revealed up to 115 suicides in which problem gambling was a significant factor.
Bereaved families said the chilling roll-call of names showed ‘the stark reality’ of the harm caused by ‘greedy and amoral’ companies.
But amid a growing row at the top of the party, Tory sources said they believe Mr Griffith’s tenure at Sky is a ‘conflict’ and that he must be excluded from the gambling review. Mr Griffith declared all his interests.
They accused the head of the Number 10 Policy Unit of being a ‘free market ideologue’ who was trying to overrule a review based on 16,000 pieces of evidence.
Sky Bet was formed by Sky in 2002 as an online bookmaker, which is now best known as the sponsor of English Football League. Sky sold a controlling 80 per cent stake for £600million in 2015, and offloaded its remaining shares in 2018 in a deal worth £570million.
David Canzini, the deputy chief of staff in Number 10, was also linked to a major bookmaker. Until February he was director of a firm, CT Group, which counted Ladbrokes Coral among its clients.
The duo have formed a rearguard action against reform with the backing of Cabinet Office minister Jacob Rees-Mogg.
A Tory source said: ‘Griffith thinks that this [reform] is all nonsense. He was COO of Sky, when it owned Sky Bet. He should recuse himself from any discussion of decision-making on this matter, because he comes with conflict. He comes with baggage.’
Another insider – referring to proposals at risk of being ditched – added: ‘It’s not just the statutory levy, or adverts on football shirts, it’s addictive VIP rooms, free bets – anything that doesn’t fit with this free-market philosophy.’
The gambling review has sparked a major rift at the top of the Tory party, pitching Number 10 and the Cabinet Office against the departments of Culture (DCMS) and Health (DoH), which favour tougher regulation.
Yesterday, a former gambling minister waded in to say it would be ‘unforgivable’ to ditch reform now.
Proposals to toughen the rules governing Britain’s gambling sector were expected in 2021, and the ongoing row may now push them into the autumn.
Reformers previously counted several supporters in Number 10, until the top team was revamped in the aftermath of the Partygate scandal.
Mr Canzini was brought in alongside the now former chief of staff Steve Barclay, while Mr Griffith was promoted to head of Number 10 policy unit with a remit to challenge ‘the hegemony of left-wing orthodoxy’.
He also took the reins of DCMS policy after special adviser Elena Narozanski left over Partygate, and was not replaced.
Mr Griffith is one of the Prime Minister’s staunchest supporters and even lent his plush Westminster townhouse for Johnson’s leadership bid in 2019.
He was awarded a job as ‘business adviser’ in Number 10 in June 2019, before winning a safe Sussex seat in time for the December election.
In a last-ditch attempt to win the argument, the all-party parliamentary group on gambling harm this week provided Mr Canzini with reports containing ‘testimony and information about the problems with this deeply unregulated gambling industry’.
Yesterday former gambling minister Tracey Crouch scolded those who dismissed changes as ‘un-Conservative’.
In a letter to The Times newspaper, she said: ‘Reforms to protect people from the harmful impact of gambling were in our 2019 manifesto so there is nothing “un-Conservative” about them, contrary to what some in the party are saying.
‘The most unforgivable thing will be to have made promises of ambitious reform, only for the Government to renege at the last minute.’
Her comments were echoed by campaigners and MPs. Matt Zarb-Cousin, the director of Clean-Up Gambling, said: ‘What was supposed to be an evidence-led gambling review, spanning more than 18 months, has hit the buffers because of some boneheaded opposition from bureaucrats in Number 10.
‘The Prime Minister must now intervene to break the deadlock, release the White Paper and make good on his manifesto commitment.’
Gambling minister Chris Philp has staked his reputation on reform, last week telling colleagues that gambling was ‘a serious public health issue’ and that too many people have been ‘led down a path to a dark destination’.
He gave a fresh indication yesterday that online casinos and slots will be a focus in the proposals for reform, saying they are among the games that ‘worry me the most’.
Addressing the MPs’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, Mr Philp said: ‘The things that worry me the most as we think about the gambling White Paper are things like online slots and online casinos – the areas where people can get really heavily addicted to gambling.
‘But, that said, we do want to make sure – although this [lotteries and scratchcards] is a lower-risk form of gambling – we do want to make sure it’s done safely.’
A Government spokesperson said: ‘The Government has consulted on a major and wide-ranging review of gambling laws to ensure they are fit for the digital age and build on our strong track record of tackling gambling-related harm.
‘We will publish our Gambling White Paper in the coming weeks.’
A source said neither Mr Griffith nor Mr Canzini has any financial interest in the gambling industry.