Time for football to kick out the gambling firms

Authorities don’t know whether to stick or twist on their relationship with gaming industry

Isn’t it time that the people who run our favourite national sport developed backbones and put the block on gaming companies being allowed to be so heavily involved in football?

My answer is an unequivocal “yes”. Football needs to stop taking money from companies whose existence is based on creating misery. Is “misery” too strong a word? I don’t think so.

Gambling can be an addiction as real as alcohol abuse, drug taking, you name it. And yet on our TVs every weekend we see the names of gaming companies plastered all over the shirts of our footballers. Is it getting out of hand? Well, look at the stats. Half of the 20 teams in the Premier League have their shirts sponsored by gaming companies. Here I list all the team with the names of the gaming companies picked out in bold. In alphabetical order the Premiership comprises:

AFC Bournemouth: M88; Arsenal: Fly Emirates; Aston Villa: W88; Brighton: American Express; Burnley: LoveBet; Chelsea: Yokohama; Crystal Palace: ManBetX; Everton: SportPesa; Leicester City: King Power; Liverpool: Standard Chartered; Manchester City: Etihad; Manchester United: Chevrolet; Newcastle United: Fun 88; Norwich: Dafabet; Sheffield United: USG; Southampton: LD Sports; Tottenham Hotspur: AIA; West Ham United: Betway; Watford:; Wolves: ManBetX.   

So that’s 10 companies involved in gaming. Southampton’s shirt sponsors are described as a Chinese sports content, marketing and entertainment platform. One wonders how long it will be before gaming is added to that list. The balance is formed of four financial institutions, two airlines, a truck company, a tyre maker and a duty free company.

The picture is even worse in the Championship which, as part of the EFL, is sponsored by Sky Bet. There 15 of the 24 teams have gambling companies as sponsors (last season it was 17). So, of the top two tiers’ 44 teams, 25 have gambling companies as main shirt sponsors. More than half!

Surely the Government needs to step in and say “enough is enough”. Within the past few days Minister of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nigel Adams MP has commented that football has “far too much dependency” on sponsorship from gambling companies.

There is concern about the impact on young fans which has been covered elsewhere on this site. Admittedly, some of the sponsors’ logos do not make it abundantly clear that they are a gambling company. For example, Newcastle’s shirt has Fun 88 on it. That’s not immediately obvious that it’s a gambling company. But, if asked to guess, what would your first thought be?

The problem – in my opinion – is that football is sending a message to fans of all ages that it’s okay to gamble. Is it possible to have fun gambling? Yes, of course. I’m not calling for a ban on gaming companies … though that’s a thought! But, please let’s get them off our football shirts.

I perhaps should own up that I have a down on gambling companies because at one time I thought that I was on a slippery slope as far as gambling was concerned. I had a couple of pure luck wins both coming in at £2,000+ and thought I was the kiddie. I had this gambling thing conquered. What an idiot! Over a period that £4,000+ disappeared followed by several thousand more. I can’t tell you an exact figure because, like many a gambler, I can only recall the few ups, not the many downs.

What saved me from totally going over the edge? I moved to a country – Thailand – where at the time of writing it is still illegal to gamble. Was that part of my reasoning for going there? I won’t try to bulls**t you that it was. Let’s call it a happy coincidence.

Do the Thais gamble? Sure, but it is illegal. Like the Americans during Prohibition with their alcohol, it was illegal to get booze down you but many, many still did it. You just had to know the right place to go. Today, there are illegal casinos in Thailand but the people behind them have influence so the authorities turn a blind eye.

From time to time the police have a bit of a clampdown. At one time they got so carried away that they detained the 32 members of a bridge club in Pattaya. You couldn’t make it up. Seems it is illegal to have more than a small number of packs of cards under the same roof. 

Also, every now and again, the prospect of legalised gambling comes under consideration in Thailand. They see how neighbours like Macau and Singapore have benefitted financially. I hope they resist the temptation. 

But, back to football in the UK, if (as I hope) the authorities decide to stop allowing gambling companies to be shirt sponsors I guess they would need to allow time for the contracts to run out. Three years should do it. If the clubs can’t find replacements they might take a hint from Charlton Athletic’s experience.

The name on the Valiants’ shirts this season is Children with Cancer UK. But the shirt position has been donated to the charity by GVC, the holding company of BETDAQ who had sponsored the shirts for the previous three seasons. Maybe BETDAQ saw which way the wind was blowing and decided to act before they were forced to. But, whatever the reasoning, let’s not be too curmudgeonly and praise them.

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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