The Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) has been cleared of operating with a conflict of interest by the Charity Commission.
A copy of a letter sent to the RGT by the Charity Commission was emailed to Gambling Insider, which was in response to a complaint made by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling (CfG) and Rethink Gambling.
The RGT receives no public funding and several of its supporters for 2015/16 are gambling operators/providers, with Ladbrokes, William Hill and OpenBet being among them.
The charity came under some scrutiny by the media earlier this year, with The Independent reporting that Jonathan Parke, husband of senior executive Dr. Jane Rigbye, was awarded a lucrative research contract.
In its letter to the RGT, the Charity Commission, whose individual case worker’s name was erased out of the letter, said: “I have reviewed the content of the letter and summarise the key points that I have relied upon when making my decision:
• There are 11 trustees; the non-voting chair, five gambling industry specialists and five independent trustees.
• The research group consists of the five independent trustees only and so decisions made are not conflicted as there is no conflict present.
• Minutes of the meetings are published on the website making the process open and transparent.
• There is a list of connections and conflicts also published on your website which is updated regularly to ensure transparency.
• There is a suitable conflict of interest policy in place and trustees are aware of what constitutes a conflict and how to disclose a new conflict.
• Trustees sign an annual declaration in regards to any conflicts they may have.
“Having taken all this into account, I am satisfied that the conflict of interest within the charity is well-managed and recorded and therefore I am closing the complaint as unsubstantiated.”
RGT chief executive Marc Etches said in response to the ruling: “The damaging implications in the media, and in subsequent complaints to the Charity Commission, that these relationships undermined our independence are something that trustees have taken extremely seriously. In particular, we are pleased to see trustees’ faith in Dr. Jane Rigbye, who expertly commissions our treatment services, endorsed by the rejection of unfounded personal attacks on her conduct, made by campaigners.”
The Independent also reported that the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, which oversees the RGT’s research, had been concerned that both Parke and Rigbye had both taken up positions within the RGT that had not been advertised.
The CfG has been critical of industry research carried out by the RGT with regards to fixed-odds betting terminals, believing it was that which delayed political action on maximum-stake reduction, and it announced in February it had submitted an 11-page complaint document with 44 sourced references to the Charity Commission.
What does this mean?
This is a significant victory for the industry, with particular reference to the finding that only the five independent trustees are in charge of research.
That does not necessarily mean that it is the end of the road for the CfG and other campaign groups, as it does not mean any future research will point towards keeping the maximum FOBT stake at £100.
What it does mean though, is that the groups may have to challenge the methodologies of research that are carried out as opposed to who is behind them, should the results be unfavourable to them.