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Matt Hancock: the Non-Fungible Tory

In this week’s edition of Bizarre News from British Politics, the Financial Times reported that reality TV star, renowned philanderer and former Health Secretary Matt Hancock is launching his own NFT collection.

A man clearly with his finger on the pulse of what the people want, Hancock has released the collection hot on the heels of his I’m A Celebrity appearance, during which he choked down a camel penis, a sheep’s vagina and a cow’s anus with a side of crunchy cockroaches. With Boy George, for some reason.

To his credit, Hancock’s new NFT collection is not intended to benefit him (except for the obvious PR implications), as the proceeds will be used to support the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal, helping charities deliver food, warmth, clean water and medical care to those who need it.

Cynics may say it is the MP’s latest attempt to dampen the flames which have so consumed his reputation in recent years, having overseen significant failures in the UK’s Covid response as Health Secretary before leaving his wife of 15 years for his mistress after the pair were caught canoodling on camera.

And, after promising to donate a significant proportion of his fee from I’m A Celebrity to charity, Hancock stoked the flames further by passing on a measly 3% of his £320,000 earnings from the show to charitable causes.

Since then, however, Hancock has taken in a family of eight refugees in his constituency house in Suffolk, including renowned Ukrainian artist Oleg Mishchenko.

The NFT collection, released in collaboration with Coinbase, is based on Mishchenko’s paintings of Ukrainian landscapes and landmarks, “many of which have been destroyed by the war,” according to Hancock’s press spokesman.

So far, just one of the 386 NFTs which make up the collection has been minted, after being claimed by Coinbase’s VP of international policy, Duff Gordon.

The project is set to officially launch at the NFT Gallery in London’s Mayfair next week. Place your bets on how popular it will be.

Ad agency calls for gambling firm boycott

Gambling advertising came under fire in The Drum this week as ad agency Media Bounty hit the headlines with a call for other agencies to boycott the sector.

Gambling industry firms’ “gigantic budgets, celebrity-filled shoots, and association with sports give them the nostalgic allure of advertising’s hedonistic heyday,” the piece said, but added that the companies are attempting to hide “a predatory system” which “preys on the most vulnerable users.”

The article pointed out how gambling had been able to weather the storm of economic instability in recent years, quoting growth of 18% in 2022, and linked this to an expected increase in gambling spend despite consumers having less disposable income than ever.

“When the pipe dreams of meritocracy fail, gambling gives a shot of false hope for a more prosperous way of life,” it said, which together with the widespread availability of online gambling creates a dangerous situation for those vulnerable to gambling-related harm.

As a solution, Media Bounty has positioned itself as staunchly anti-gambling, while it also eschews accounts from the fast fashion, tobacco and fossil fuel sectors.

While agencies continue to pick up the work, however, Media Bounty suggested that improvements could still be made in gambling advertising. 

“Frequency capping rules (which limit the number of times an ad can be served to an individual) could be tightened to limit re-targeting, or ad-serving platforms could let users opt out of gambling advertising altogether,” it suggested.

It also pointed out that changes are already expected, with new rules on the use of influencers and sports stars in ads, but said that more overarching reforms have been pushed back as the government fears reduced tax revenues from the industry as a result.

Perhaps advertising will be ripe for further review in the long-awaited Gambling Act white paper.

SIS goes up for sale

Sky News published some big news in the M&A world this week, as it revealed that sports betting technology supplier SIS may be up for sale.

The supplier boasts shareholders including gambling giants Entain and 888, as well as Betfred founder Fred Done.

It describes itself as “the leading supplier of 24/7 betting services to retail and online operators globally… [providing] betting operators with… content with an end-to-end solution of live pictures, data, on-screen graphics with betting triggers and a wide range of markets and pricing to drive betting revenues,” according to the article.

The firm counts partnerships with more than 400 customers across 50 countries, according to its website, offering horse, greyhound and virtual racing, as well as esports and live numbers draws.

SIS can supply operators with more than 600,000 betting events every year, it added.

The business has apparently now instructed iGaming M&A legends Oakvale Capital to assess the interest around a possible sale, with the price reportedly set at somewhere in the region of £200m.

The firm was established in 1986 and launched The Racing Channel in the UK in 1995. Today, it has established a growing presence in the esports space and broadcasts channels covering sports including greyhound racing.

The firm is run by chief executive Richard Ames, the former head honcho at toymaker Hornby.

A possible sale could mark a return to large-scale M&A activity in the gambling sector, after 2022 saw a decidedly quiet period take hold amid macroeconomic uncertainty.