Problem Gambling Campaigners Concerned At Football Sponsorships

GambleAware chief warns of a “tipping point” for sport

Problem gambling campaigners have expressed concerns regarding the volume of football club sponsorship deals being clinched by gambling companies, calling for a national debate on the issue to avoid “normalising” gambling through excessive media coverage.

In media interviews, campaigners have claimed that almost 60 percent of England’s top two football divisions this season (nine of 20 in the Premier League and 17 of 24 in the Championship) are sponsored by gambling firms.

Speaking to Press Association Sport, Gambling Watch UK’s Professor Jim Orford said: “This is worrying. There is evidence that gambling is becoming ever more normalised, particularly among young people, so that increasingly betting is seen as part and parcel of following and supporting one’s favourite sport or team.”

Orford, who is Emeritus professor of clinical and community psychology at the University of Birmingham, quoted UK Gambling Commission statistics to illustrate the scale of the problem gambling issue.

He said that football’s popularity with young people can lead them to thinking they have “special knowledge of the subject akin to the skill in poker which has always been exaggerated to good effect by gambling operators” and that there was “increasing worry” about the grey area between social-media gambling, which is popular with youngsters and often free, and real gambling.

“Many people think gambling is now out of control in Britain which has the most liberal online gambling regulations of any European country,” Orford observed.

He was supported in his view by Marc Etches, the chief executive of GambleAware, who said:

“I think we are at a tipping point in terms of the relationship between professional sports and gambling. We have a generation of fans who believe you have to bet on football to enjoy it and that is disturbing and concerning. It is a very different place to the past when there was only the weekly pools and spot-the-ball.

“The time is now for a much-needed debate about how we do this. Watching football and having a bet is becoming normalised but we’re not talking about it.”

Etches revealed that he wrote to all the Premier League clubs and the two main leagues about his concerns last year. The charity has also commissioned two research projects to look at the impact of gambling advertising on young people.

Etches said he was particularly interested in the outcome of these studies in the online gambling sector, which he described as booming.

The Premier League declined to comment on the issue, and an EFL spokesman said sports sponsorship deals make a “significant contribution to the ongoing financial sustainability of professional football at all levels” and pointed out that the league has agreed a memorandum of understanding with title partner Sky Bet to ensure that the relationship is “socially responsible”.

The league is additionally updating its guidance to clubs on “responsible practices” and is supporting a Sky Bet initiative to visit each EFL club for special training on “the potential risks associated with gambling, the rules around betting integrity, and know how to look out for signs of potential harm in team-mates”.