/ Travel & Leisure

Is English football addicted to gambling?

How has English football’s relationship with gambling become so deep-rooted? Our guest, Football365 journalist John Nicholson, explains how we got here.

A few weeks back, Monzo’s Natalie Ledward won our Your Consumer Champion Award for her work developing a gambling block on the bank’s mobile app.

As a young man playing for a football team, I see first-hand how prevalent the gambling industry has become in our national sport. Blocks like Natalie’s are essential.

The club I support, Crystal Palace, has just launched a new range of kits. I’d love to buy one, but I’m not entirely comfortable with becoming a walking advertisement for ManBetX. Nine other Premier League teams will also be sponsored by gambling companies this season.

How did we get here? I could think of no one better to explain English football’s relationship with betting companies than Football365 journalist John Nicholson.

This is a guest post by John Nicholson. All views expressed are John’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Gambling is so pervasive in football; games are preceded and followed by TV ads for betting companies. The whole of the English Football League is sponsored by SkyBet and its logo is on every team’s shirt.

Ten of this season’s Premier League teams are sponsored by betting companies. One tier below in the Championship, it’s an amazing 17 of the 24 clubs.

You’ll find in-game and half-time odds on the radio, telling you how much you could win if x,y, and z happens. The same goes for TV: up pops Ray Winstone with pre-match and half-time suggestions for bets to place and encouragement to feel that you are master of your domain; a betting overlord, traversing the globe in search of profit.

It doesn’t stop there. Even Football365, the website I write for, takes betting advertisements as they’re an important income stream. Gambling is absolutely everywhere in football. It has become the primary financial warp and weft of the game.

I remember old adverts from now-defunct marketing campaigns which tried to establish different, relateable characters, but each only looked as if they had a horrible existence, their pain numbed only by lager and gambling.

Gambling addiction

Gambling is a terrible addiction which can ruin lives. Like a confection designed to melt at just the right temperature in your mouth, to make it so deliciously compulsive that you will overindulge.

The betting industry knows just how to press our psychological buttons, even offering up ready-made excuses for your losses. One company’s old caption, for example: “When you win, it’s skill, when you lose it’s bad luck.”

Fortunately, that slogan and the marketing it spawned from was dropped several years ago.

Advice such as ‘When the fun stops, stop’ appears at the end of every ad but, if the fun has stopped, that advice is already too late. How effective do you feel warning notices like this can be?

“Please bet responsibly,” says Ray, which I feel is as akin to ‘please drink responsibly’ on a bottle of vodka. People without a problem don’t need telling; people with a problem can’t take the advice.

I see it all as PR and faux-caring from a vampiric industry. The adverts sell gambling as ‘cool’ and attractive to an audience of young men and indeed, children who watch football. Youth teams aren’t allowed to display betting company sponsors on their shirts, but how can we keep children from being attracted to gambling when the adverts are so omnipresent in every aspect of their sport?

Last week, Ladbrokes Coral was fined £5.9m, in-part for not protecting vulnerable customers.

With this exposure becoming controversial and even being raised in parliament, some companies have started rowing back a little. Ladbrokes has said it will no longer put ads encouraging betting at football matches or on TV during games.

Betting via your smartphone

Betting used to be something you had to enter a bookies to do. You had to brave the smoke-filled crowds to put your money down. Now, it’s intentionally been made so easy to lose your money that you hardly notice it’s even happened.

Football betting has deliberately become unremarkable through its persistent omnipresence, the encouragement to gratuitously lose your money made standard, as though it’s just a natural part of life.

What is this doing to the quality of all our lives, whether we do or don’t gamble? Do the grubby, downmarket values not cheapen all of us? Can we not raise our eyes to the sky and stop staring at the soul-sapping smartphone odds?

Are we not about better things than winning or losing money? Surely there are plenty more fulfilling intellectual and emotional stimuli available, without pretending that pointlessly throwing money away is fun.

A dependent relationship

Like compulsive drinking, compulsive gambling sneaks up on you, tells you you’re having a good time. You haven’t got a problem, or at least not a problem that one more big bet or one more bottle won’t fix.

That’s why football’s addiction to betting is so dangerous. It has put gambling front and centre, has encouraged and completely normalised extreme behaviour, marketing it away as just a bit of fun and banter, as all the while it drums up huge profits by preying on the vulnerable.

This will have actively provoked and fed many thousands of people’s addictions, making their lives worse and worse. And that isn’t just pain the gambler alone endures.

And all the while, they have made football broadcasting and media dependent on their advertising money. They have made football addicted to it. It’s a dark, unwholesome spiral where addiction to addiction is feeding more addiction.

When the fun stops, stop? Well, I think the fun has stopped, but there seems to be no stopping the takeover of football by the gambling industry, and that’s to the benefit of no-one except those who feast on its profits.

Has our national sport left it too late to cash out?

This was a guest post by John Nicholson. All views expressed were John’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Comments

It was a real pleasure to work with John on this. Football 365 is one of my favourite sites and John has written some fantastic stuff on gambling in the sport, including this back in April: https://www.football365.com/news/how-football-and-the-gambling-industry-have-grown-so-close

I’ve been interested in covering this debate, which I believe football absolutely needs to have, for a long time – Monzo’s Natalie Ledward winning a Which? award for developing a gambling block on the bank’s app helped convince me this was the right time. Gambling addiction can ruin lives – its huge presence in our national sport, with adverts mostly targeting younger, more impressionable consumers, should concern us all.

I started looking into this a bit earlier George.

Never really thought too much about sponsorship, but I found an interesting page on Premier League sponsors.
https://www.scoreandchange.com/overview-2019-2020-premier-league-sponsors/

The only gambling company I have heard of is Betway with headquarters in Malta. The rest are also registered in countries for their tax benefits they can take advantage of.
I found this article on one of them:
https://calvinayre.com/2019/04/27/business/vietnam-busts-online-betting-ring-fun88/
Whether the company is innocent or compliant of illegal betting, any searches of them or the other betting companies suggests there are plenty of dodgy dealings going on.

Do any of them actually pay taxes in the UK?

Maybe because it is cheap (/free?) for them to operate here, they have been able to get such a foothold on football.

How much notice do people really take of shirt advertising? I can see why you wouldn’t want a betting company on a shirt you wear.

Internet gambling is certainly far too easy but I think TV gambling is even worse. You don’t just see a name, but a whole scenario to encourage you to dress up to join your friends and gamble the night away all sounding so innocent.

Thanks alfa, it’s all very interesting. Researching these companies eventually ends in a tax haven dead-ends. It seems Malta is the favoured area for registration for a lot of them, and it’s almost impossible to find any employees of these companies online or details on any of the directors.

Bizarrely, ManBetX’s Facebook and Twitter haven’t been touched for more than a year.

It’s a murky world indeed – something I’m not comfortable displaying on a shirt.

Great work George and John, interesting stuff. As well as TV ads and shirt/league sponsorship, the relationship between Sky Sports News fueling and firing up transfer rumours, and the (apparently unrelated) Sky Bet taking bets on them should be of great concern to the powers that be.

Can we be entirely sure that the Treasury is not behind all this? Gambling makes an enormous contribution to tax revenues and, unless destitution sets in, has few immediately identifiable impacts on the public services unlike liquor or smoking addiction.

The interest of the betting firms is to promote enough gambling to keep the money rolling in but appear to be responsible and avert the social consequences of the habit; they need to push betting to the point just before that tipping point, keep it looking like fun and pleasure, with luck and fortune as motivators, and not damaging the weekly income stream through a bad image, societal rejection, and dishonour. It’s a fine balancing act but is it now close to overstepping the mark? I think so.

As has been remarked, foreign interests – served by the internet – are behind much of the sponsorship [it’ll be buttons and bootlaces next I suppose], but how much UK tax revenue is being generated through these means, and is it all being captured? Not that generating tax is a worthy justification for allowing the proliferation of gambling’s growing hold on the game. I wonder why some of the players would want to appear in gambling-sponsored garments, but they are probably brainwashed into believing that it supports their mega pay packets and transfer fees and keeps their employer afloat. The ‘beautiful game’ has increasingly become corrupted – on the pitch, in the stands, on TV, and now in cyber space.

Can the Premiership and the Championship survive in their present form without this particular type of sponsorship? And would it matter much if they didn’t? The downstream benefits of kit sponsorships whereby sales of replica kit are worth billions to the major manufacturers mean these companies are constantly competing against their commercial rivals and the teams are churning their deals season by season to extract the maximum income. Does this feed into consumer prices? You bet it does. Which other aspects of football are left to be monetised? Where even the name of the stadium is up for grabs. It is indicative of the raw commercial power at work that Spurs are holding back on doing a sleeve sponsorship deal until they have locked in a sponsor for their brand new stadium in case the one compromises the other.

Aaah! , , , The glory days of the treble chance. The knock on the door on a Saturday evening when Raymond or Sidney calls to sell you the Pink ‘Un and give you the pools coupons for next week’s matches which he’ll collect on Tuesday. “Accrington Stanley ONE, . . . Crewe Alexandra TWO”. Oh dear! – another three shillings wasted as Dad turns off the wireless. “I was sure they would draw”, he mutters.

Does the Treasury really benefit? I searched all the betting companies sponsoring shirts and could not find a single one of them on companies house. I also searched for VAT numbers but couldn’t find any. The Treasury might benefit from bricks & mortar premises, but internet betting when it goes out of the country funnelled through multiple bank accounts??

My dad didn’t do the pools, but I used to visit relatives on Saturday afternoons when silence was demanded for the football results on the TV.

To the extent that betting advertisements encourage gambling and might propel some people into betting shops the Exchequer will benefit, but you are right, Alfa, most of the money will be channelled offshore, and it is billions, on which normal taxes and excise duties would be huge. Perhaps there could be a rule that no sponsorships can be entered into unless the sponsor establishes and maintains a physical presence in the UK and pays all taxes. The amount of money required to maintain top level football in the comfort to which it has become accustomed is probably outside the reach of ordinary UK companies.

Years ago a friend said he was very much in favour of gambling because it took money out of the economy that would otherwise be in competition with his so it kept prices for other goods and services low. There might have been something in that once but the current state of affairs is probably damaging our economy big time. Own goal!

Any presence by foreign companies in the UK is too often in virtual offices so they don’t have a real presence like the Chinese vendors on Amazon. I think a proviso of operating here should be that their betting websites are connected to HMRC and a percentage of every bet goes directly to the Treasury.

I agree with that, Alfa.

I see the boy Rooney is under pressure over his new team’s sponsorship by an on-line casino. I am glad this issue has been raised and hopefully there will be a widespread debate. I should like to see the football ‘authorities’ exercise some authority over sponsorships but they don’t seem to regard it as a priority at the moment. Some moral responsibility is well overdue.