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On the British Prime Minister’s very own betting scandal

June 28th, 2024 at 04:36am

It has been quite remarkable to watch the ongoing saga of the betting scandal surrounding (almost certainly) outgoing British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, which has provided almost the only interesting spectacle in an otherwise quite dull election campaign, with the only other interesting facet being Nigel Farage entering the fray as leader of Reform UK (previously known as the Brexit Party) and managing to get ahead of the Conservatives in a number of polls, although whether this translates to more seats is yet to be seen.

For those of you who aren’t aware, the scandal relates to bets placed on the date on which the UK election would be held. Shortly after Rishi Sunak surprised just about everyone by standing in the pouring rain to announce a July 4 election (a date very few people expected), it came to light that his main protection officer had placed a bet on a July 4 election a few days before the announcement. After that, the scandal grew to encompass the Conservative campaign director, multiple MPs, at least one wife of an MP, and multiple Metropolitan Police officers.

While there is no suggestion that Rishi Sunak instructed anybody to place any bets, it seems clear that he told a few people about the date on which he was going to hold the election, and they thought they could make a few dollars on it. For some this may have been a way of getting something out of their own certain defeat at the polls, while for others it may have just been an opportunity. What’s amazing though is that none of these people seemed to realise that a bunch of bets placed on an unlikely outcome days before the announcement would raise the eyebrows of bookmakers and make them dig into who had placed the bets, or that it might look a bit suspicious that a person with ties to the PM would place a bet on something the PM could conceivably have given them information about.

If one is being uncharitable, one could wonder if perhaps the reason Rishi made the strange pouring-rain announcement was because one of the people who placed a bet rang him up and asked him to hurry up as they needed the payout for their gas bill.

Naturally, I feel a bit left out. It seems that Rishi told everyone except me that he would have a July 4 election. Then again, perhaps he tried. Maybe all of those daily missed calls from a Romanian number were from an agent of his, and they didn’t leave a voicemail because they didn’t want to leave any traces behind.

We have, of course, seen similar things here in Australia. There was a recent case of people with inside information about the Australian Of The Year award getting in trouble for placing bets on what they knew would be the correct outcome. I have to admit I considered doing this one year when I was accidentally sent a copy of the winners list before the announcement, but I didn’t go ahead with it.

I do, however, have my own similar story from the mid-2010s. This didn’t rely on inside information though, and was in fact down to bookmaker error so I couldn’t see any problem with it. After all, the bookmakers can always void a bet if they realise they have made a mistake…but they never did.

My story relates to Time Magazine’s person of the year award. In the mid-2010s, the winner of this award was announced on NBC Today about an hour before it was published on Time Magazine’s website. Australian bookmakers seemed to either be unaware of this, or didn’t care because there was no live airing on NBC Today in this country (Seven aired it early the following morning and received the delayed west coast airing so didn’t have access to the live version). This therefore meant that the betting market remained open for almost a full hour after the announcement was made. So for a few years I would find a not-at-all-legal stream of an east coast NBC affiliate and watch the live announcement of the winner, and then place bets on this outcome wherever I could find decent odds. About an hour later when the announcement was published to Time’s website, I would make a small profit. From memory I think I made about $50 at a time and not all from the same bookmaker, so it wasn’t a big profit but enough to be worthwhile, and generally the winner was one of the favoured outcomes so it probably didn’t seem at all odd or suspicious that someone would bet on it.

I forgot all about it one year, and when I checked again the following year, the bookmakers had worked out that the announcement was being televised prior to online publication and closed their markets at the start of NBC Today, so the loophole was gone.

Was it wrong? Maybe. But I don’t really think so. The bookmakers advertised a closing time matching the time of publication on Time’s website, and I was placing bets based on publicly available information. I wasn’t using secret information. Also, as the bookmakers had the power to retrospectively void bets if they decided the market should have been closed earlier, as far as I was concerned it was their mistake to not know as much as they should have known about their own markets. To my mind, this is not at all the same thing as the naughty fraud of being provided with outcomes ahead of time and betting on them. But maybe that’s just me, and the shades of grey might look different to others.

None-the-less, it does bring me back to Rishi and friends and the broader concept that it is remarkable to me that bookmakers have so many markets where certain people can know the outcome ahead of time. Everything from award winners and interest rate decisions to election dates to who will perform at half time of the Super Bowl. It really seems to be asking for trouble for bookmakers to open themselves up to the possibility that people who know things may bet and go undetected. I’m sure that for all of the ones we’ve heard about lately who have been detected, many many more slip through the net. It also seems to me that if bookmakers have such markets, they should wear the risk of insider knowledge and not be able to void bets or ban or prosecute people after the fact. If they don’t want the risk, they shouldn’t have the market.

But that’s just me. And I know my libertarian viewpoint on such matters doesn’t align, and probably never will align, with any form of regulation.


Entry Filed under: Adventures In Betting,General News

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. dougmac  |  June 28th, 2024 at 9:12 am

    The amounts involved in the current UK scandal are so small considering what the “perpetrators” stand to lose,not only financially but in terms of reputation and social standing that it beggars belief that any became involved. A very interesting read Samuel.

  • 2. Samuel  |  June 28th, 2024 at 9:27 am

    Yes, it is quite remarkable how much these people have been willing to risk for such small payouts. It’s a point which former British politician and now TNT Radio presenter Lembit Opik has been making as well.

    For the politicians involved, I won’t be surprised if some run for office again in the future (unless they get convicted of fraud) but for the police officers, that’s their careers gone. Hardly seems worth it. One of the more peculiar scandals in modern politics.

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