Saturday February 20,2016 : ONLINE GAMBLING RESEARCHER IN CONFLICT OF INTEREST ROW
Did problem gambling charity senior executive award a lucrative contract to husband Jonathan Parke?
The well-known and respected online gambling researcher Jonathan Parke has been named by The Independent newspaper in what it claims is a conflict of interest issue involving his wife Jane Rigbye – a senior executive at the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT).
The newspaper claims that Parke's company Sophro Limited benefits from a GBP 750,000 RGT research contract on problem gambling which could now be the subject of an enquiry by the Charity Commission.
Sophro, which is registered at the couple’s home in Nottinghamshire, was initially titled The Gambling Lab and listed both Parke and his wife as directors. At the time, they were both employed by the RGT, and Rigbye resigned her directorship after she was promoted to director of commissioning at the Trust when Parke left the position in 2014.
Two months later the firm's title was changed and it successfully entered a bid for the GBP 750,000 RGT research project into problem gambling.
The Trust claims the contract was correctly put out to tender and was appropriately awarded. The RGT has further claimed that Rigbye has no responsibility for commissioning research.
The research contract, which was awarded to Sophro in December last year, was followed by a second contract last (January) month, and is being run in conjunction with the online gambling group Unibet.
Parke is well-qualified for the task; he is an expert in online gambling self-regulation and prior to joining RGT served as a lecturer in consumer behaviour at Salford Business School, providing consultancy services to the gambling and other industries.
The Independent report includes allegations that the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, which oversees RGT research, had raised concerns that both Parke and Rigbye had been appointed to roles within the charity without their posts being advertised.
The RGT responded that it is not unusual to “promote people internally” and that Rigbye is “eminently well-qualified” for her position.
Perhaps predictably, politicians were quick to see an opportunity to comment, with Liberal Democrat Party leader Tim Farron opining that the case raised “serious questions”.
Labour Party shadow gambling minister, Clive Efford, expressed the view that the RGT “should be disbanded” if its research was found to protect the “interests of the industry at the expense of people with gambling problems”, whilst the founder of the Rethink Gambling charity, Simon Perfitt said he was concerned that the Trust had apparently appointed directors of commissioning who had clear conflicts of interest…without advertising the posts.