Sunday, 18 September 2011
Questions over gambling chief's £200,000 Tory gift
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 2:50 AM on 5th February 2009
The Tories were facing questions last night over a £200,000 gift from a fruit machine tycoon.
Four leisure companies connected to multi-millionaire Trevor Hemmings handed the cash to the party after its frontbenchers fought to relax gambling laws.
It also emerged that the businessman, who owns Blackpool Tower, had financial links to a Labour peer who backed his plan to build a Las Vegas-style supercasino in the seaside resort.
Donation: David Cameron with slot machine boss Trevor Hemmings at Uttoxeter racecourse in 2007
In February last year, Tory culture spokesman Tobias Ellwood called on the Government to double the maximum stake for one-armed bandits with £500 jackpots from £1 to £2.
He also urged ministers to scrap the rule which limits premises from having any more than four of the machines.
Over the following four months, firms connected to 73-year-old Mr Hemmings made four £50,000 donations.
One, Crown Leisure, supplies slot machines to pubs, clubs, casinos and amusement arcades.
Yesterday critics urged Tory leader David Cameron to guarantee that his party was not becoming embroiled in a 'cash-for-favours' row.
Labour backbencher David Borrow said: 'David Cameron needs to come clean over exactly how influential this person is in the Conservative Party.'
David Miller, of the Association for Lobbying Transparency, said: 'It is a clear problem of conflict of interest. The Conservatives should just send the money back.'
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The Tories vehemently denied they had been compromised by the donations, which
were all registered with the Electoral Commission.
A spokesman said: 'Our policy was formulated before any of these donations were made.
'These companies, like all other donors to the party, have had no influence over its policies.'
The Government recently announced it will double the stake allowed on cheaper slot machines - from 50p to £1 - but it has not yet introduced the measure for more expensive machines.
A Tory source insisted that raising the amount gamblers could bet on £500-prize machines could help prevent problem betting.
Gamblers would be less tempted to switch to highlyaddictive fixed-odds terminals in betting shops, which have a maximum £100 stake, the source claimed.
Three of the firms donating £50,000 - Northern Trust Company, Trust Inns and Classic Lodges - are owned by a holding company that lists Mr Hemmings as director, while Crown Leisure shares a phone number with his private office.
At the time, the total £200,000 donation made the entrepreneur - whose horse Hedgehunter won the 2005 Grand National - the Tories' second- largest corporate donor.
Sources said Mr Hemmings strenuously denied any suggestions he had sought to influence Tory policy.
Earlier it was revealed that Lord Faulkner of Worcester voted against the Government in the Lords when it announced a supercasino would be built in Manchester.
Before proposals for the gambling palace were axed by Gordon Brown, the Labour peer repeatedly spoke out in support of Blackpool's bid.
But he failed to disclose that he was a non-Parliamentary consultant to Sportech, a leisure company of which Mr Hemmings is the largest shareholder.
The Lords code of conduct requires peers to declare any relevant interests when speaking in the chamber.
Lord Faulkner, ennobled in 1999, denied any conflict of interest or wrongdoing.
He admitted not declaring links to Sportech when he spoke up for the Blackpool casino, but insisted he intervened only because he was impressed by the town's bid.
Mr Hemmings could not be contacted yesterday
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1135723/Questions-gambling-chiefs-200-000-Tory-gift.html#ixzz1YHzHaeHg