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Tom Watson

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Former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has been appointed as an adviser to one of the UK’s biggest gambling firms.

Mr Watson, who left Parliament last year, was a campaigner for stricter rules on gambling while he was an MP.

He is joining Flutter, which owns brands like Paddy Power and Betfair.

The firm said he will “bring a fresh and robust voice into the business, as it looks for ways to protect “vulnerable customers,” while serving those who enjoy gambling safely.

Flutter, which also owns Sky Bet and Poker Stars, saw its pre-tax profits slump 70% to £24m in August, after being hit by coronavirus and the costs of a merger. The company is seeking to expand further into online poker and gaming.

‘Positive change’

Mr Watson said: “I have a long-standing interest in this sector and consistently called for action to protect those that may be potentially vulnerable to harm.

“In taking on this role in Flutter, I intend to get under the bonnet of the business.

He added: “I strongly believe that working collaboratively with Flutter in this way will allow me to continue to drive positive change”.

Mr Watson has previously called for an end to gambling advertising on football shirts, and a ban on television ads during live events and called gambling was a “hidden epidemic”.

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Media captionMr Watson speaking about gambling addiction in 2017.

Mr Watson resigned his West Bromwich East seat in November 2019, choosing not to contest the general election.

He had faced attempts to remove him as deputy leader by allies of then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, but announced he wanted a change of career after losing eight stone in weight and was retraining as a gym instructor.

High stakes

He was recently appointed chair of trade body UK Music, pledging to fight for the future of the industry during the coronavirus crisis.

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Paddy Power reacts to new coronavirus restrictions in Manchester

Gambling in the UK was liberalised by Tony Blair’s Labour government, leading to an explosion in online betting and high stakes gaming machines in High Street bookmakers.

But the industry has faced a crackdown in recent years, with high stakes, fixed odds machines – dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling” by critics – having their maximum stakes cut from £100 to £2.

Paddy Power was one of two bookmakers chains forced to pull new roulette-style games in April last year after criticism from the Gambling Commission.

The industry is also facing calls to ban on ads at sports grounds and on players’ shirts. A review of the 2005 Gambling Act is expected before the end of the year.

Peter Jackson, Flutter’s chief executive, said bringing in someone with Mr Watson’s background was “an important part of my commitment to lead the industry’s race to the top”.

He added: “We have to work harder than ever before to find a way to continue to bring great products and brands to our customers while always having the need to protect the vulnerable clearly in mind.

“Tom will hold a mirror up to help us make sure we are getting this balance right.”

Another former Labour frontbencher, and one-time ally of Mr Watson, Michael Dugher, was named as the chief executive the Betting and Gaming Council – a new trade body for betting shops, online gaming businesses and casinos – in December last year.