Tories back slot machines and win tycoon Trevor Hemmings’s £200,000 jackpot - Monday 9th of February 2009

The Conservative Party accepted £200,000 from a slot machine tycoon’s businesses shortly after calling for softer rules on arcade gambling, The Times has learnt.

Four companies linked to Trevor Hemmings gave the party £50,000 each last year. Together, this made the companies the Conservatives’ largest independent corporate sponsor at the time. Only an investment fund controlled by the party treasurer, Michael Spencer, gave more.

Mr Hemmings, 73, who owns Blackpool Tower and whose horse won the 2005 Grand National, offered counsel to David Cameron at a Tory fundraising event at Uttoxeter racecourse in November 2007, according to the Racing Post’s gossip columnist.

On February 26 last year, Tobias Ellwood, the Tory culture spokesman, demanded a review of the rules, backing the gaming industry’s call for the stakes to return to £2 and for the limit on B3 machines to be dropped. “Family arcades are a vibrant part of many seaside towns and it is wrong that they have suffered from an unintended consequence of government legislation,” he said.

However, Category B3 machines are banned from family arcades and can be played only on premises restricted to over18s.

Northern Trust Company and Trust Inns gave the Conservatives £50,000 each before April 1 last year. The Tories reported the money to the Electoral Commission on that date but because parties have 60 days to register donations, the money could have been donated at any time from the beginning of February. Two months later the Tories told the commission that they received two more donations of £50,000, this time from Classic Lodges and Crown Leisure.

Research by The Times shows that the leisure companies Northern Trust Company, Trust Inns and Classic Lodges are ultimately owned by holding companies that list Mr Hemmings as director. The holding companies’ shares are also owned by Eva Hemmings, of Jersey; Mr Hemmings’s wife, Eva, lives in Jersey.

Crown Leisure, a gaming machine company, shares a telephone number with Mr Hemmings’s private office. Mr Hemmings, his staff and business partners refused to respond to questions or return calls about the donations.

David Miller, of the Association for Lobbying Transparency, said: “It’s a clear problem of conflict of interest. The Conservatives should just send the money back.” The Tories said : “This 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.”

David Bradwell, of the Methodist Church, said that the Gambling Act was there to protect the vulnerable.

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