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 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?.