Three UK Politicians Investigated Over Insider Betting on General Election Debate 

Three senior politicians from the UK’s ruling Conservative party are under investigation by the country’s Gambling Commission (UKGC) on suspicion they may have used insider foreknowledge to place bets on the date of the country’s upcoming general election.

On May 22, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a surprise announcement of a July 4 election date. The consensus among media figures and experts was that a September election was more likely. 

Recently, reports emerged on the investigations into betting activity of two prospective Conservative candidates for Parliament and the party’s director of campaigning. It is alleged that Craig Williams, Laura Sanders, and her husband, Tony Lee, placed wagers on the election date after receiving insider knowledge from being part of Sunak’s team.

Using insider information when betting “may constitute an offense of cheating under Section 42 of the Gambling Act, which is a criminal offense,” according to a UKGC representative who spoke to the BBC. 

The Backdrop

Odds on a July election were long. They would have been even longer for predicting the exact July 4 date rather than the month of the election. 

The received wisdom was that an election later in the year was more likely. Sunak’s embattled government is currently far behind main rivals the Labour Party in the polls. 

Experts believed that a later election would give more time for inflation rates to come down, easing the cost of living crisis and looking better for the current government. 

During his announcement, PM Sunak spoke outside his Downing Street office and was drenched in rain, while opposition supporters loudly blared music from past Labour campaigns from a nearby van. 

Several key Conservative figures have since voiced their displeasure at the announcement of the early election, and reports have emerged that many in the party are resigned to defeat. 

The Bets 

The UKGC began investigating potentially illegal insider bets on the election date on the day of the announcement. Betting exchange operator Betfair, part of Flutter Entertainment, informed the regulator of a sharp uptick in bets on a July 4 election date just days before Sunak’s announcement. 

Craig Williams, the Conservative candidate to represent Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr in Wales, admitted to placing a £100 bet on the election date late last week. 

Williams had been a close associate of Sunak’s as an official aide to the Prime Ministerial team. 

“I made a huge error of judgement, that’s for sure, and I apologize,” he said last week.

However, he refused to comment on whether or not he had inside information when placing the wager. Then, this week, it was revealed that husband and wife Lee and Saunders were also being investigated for suspected election betting. 

Tony Lee worked as a campaign director for the Conservative Party, before stepping down on July 20 when news of the investigation broke. Saunders, Lee’s wife, is the Conservative party candidate for the Bristol West area in the upcoming election.

During this time, an unnamed police protection officer on Sunak’s team was arrested on similar insider betting charges. The officer was bailed pending further inquiry on charges of misconduct in a public office. 

The Response

Williams has been the only person to admit the charges so far. Saunders has refused to comment, and took aim at the BBC for outing her as under investigation. 

“Ms. Saunders will be cooperating with the Gambling Commission and has nothing further to add,” said her lawyer, Nama Zarroug. 

“It is inappropriate to conduct any investigation of this kind via the media, and doing so risks jeopardizing the work of the Gambling Commission and the integrity of its investigation.”

Her husband, Lee, has taken a voluntary leave of absence from party work. He has not otherwise commented on the matter. 

Opposition party leader and prospective new Prime Minister Keir Starmer called on Saunders and Williams to be suspended from the party, barring them from running in this election under the Conservative banner.

“If it was one of my candidates, they’d be gone and their feet would not have touched the floor,” Starmer said. 

Election Betting 

The fact that political betting is allowed at all in the UK may come as a surprise to people around the world.

Several attempts to launch political betting services in the U.S. have been controversially shut down by Congress, citing concerns on market influences and insider betting. 

American proponents of the idea have previously cited the lack of controversial incidents involving UK political betting. That’s something they can no longer do in good faith after these incidents.

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