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The gambling watchdog has refused to condemn the widespread use of scantily-clad models to promote products at one of the industry’s biggest trade events.

Under its former boss, Sarah Harrison, the Gambling Commission had threatened to boycott ICE London because women “were expected to wear nothing more than swimsuits”.

It also convinced ICE to introduce a code of conduct to tackle sexism. But at this year’s event it appeared that little had changed. And the Gambling Commission, which has a new boss, Neil McArthur, told the BBC: “It is a matter for the organisers to enforce that code.”

At the event at London’s ExCel centre, the BBC found models dressed as Playboy bunnies promoting casino games sold by the Slovenian firm Interblock. The women also posed for pictures with male attendees.

Meanwhile, other so-called “promo-girls” – models hired by firms to attract delegates to their stand – circulated the conference hall handing out leaflets and giveaways.

Flavio Grasselli, a conference delegate from Italy, had his picture taken with three women dressed in mermaid outfits. He told the BBC he thought employing scantily-clad women to promote companies and products was not unethical.

“Gambling is linked with the forbidden,” he said, adding that the “sensuality of a woman” and “the sensuality of the roulette wheel” in casinos were naturally linked.

He said the ICE event was more like a music festival than a conference, describing himself as being “like a child in a park”.

Image captionFlavio Grasselli with three women promoting Synot

Mr Grasselli was not the only one to speak out in support of conference’s practices.

Zenede, a model working at the event, said ICE was “fun for people, it’s great”. She added that the gaming firm that had employed her, Kajot, had chosen her

Clarion Gaming, the company which runs the conference, brought in its code of conduct in 2019. It followed negative press about the use of pole dancers at the 2018 event.

The code states that “partial or total nudity or overtly sexual or suggestive clothing or marketing methods will not be allowed”.

The firm told the BBC that companies at this year’s event had largely met the code, but there had been one breach. It would not comment on the nature of the breach.

“Show management have spoken with the exhibitor concerned and immediate action was taken to ensure compliance,” a spokesman said.

Labour MP Carolyn Harris told the BBC that ICE London’s practices were unacceptable.

“Having seen pictures from the ICE conference of scantily clad women being used by overseas gambling companies to once again promote their organisations to men in suits, I can’t help but feel disappointed,” she said.

“Time and again, this industry appears to be totally lacking in morals and decency.

“This kind of marketing is outdated and unnecessary and I would hope that Clarion who organised the event, think twice before doing this again.”

Her views echo the words of the former head of the Gambling Commission, Ms Harrison, who left in 2018. At the time, she said: “A woman from the gambling industry is Britain’s highest paid boss. Yet from walking around the exhibition you wouldn’t know this.”

She added: “Instead you saw men representing their companies wearing expensive tailored suits whilst their female colleagues were expected to wear nothing more than swimsuits.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the commission said: “We called out the organisers about this two years ago and they have since launched a code of conduct.

“It is a matter for the organisers to enforce that code. Our focus at the conference is on making gambling safer for British consumers.”

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