Gambling review delay lets Premier League football clubs strike sponsorship deals

·5-min read

Families who lost loved ones to gambling addiction have reacted with anger after the government’s decision to delay its gambling white paper allowed three Premier League football clubs to sign new shirt sponsorship deals with betting firms.

The new agreements mean that eight of England’s top football clubs now have front-of-shirt gambling sponsors, while others have separate deals for sleeve sponsorship, logos on training kits and stadium advertising.

Charles Ritchie, co-founder of the charity Gambling with Lives, which supports and campaigns for families affected by gambling-related suicide, said: “We need an end to all gambling advertising. The delays to the white paper are disgraceful.”

Annie Ashton, from Leicester, whose husband, Luke, took his life in April last year after he started gambling during lockdown, said: “Football is a way into gambling addiction for so many people. It’s shocking that clubs continue to blatantly ignore that.”

Ministers announced in December 2020 they were reviewing gambling laws, including sports sponsorship, but have delayed the keenly awaited white paper four times. The latest delay was confirmed after Boris Johnson announced his resignation as prime minister.

The review has included examining online stake limits, improved protection for online gamblers and gambling advertising. A potential ban by the government on gambling logos on sports shirts has widely trailed for more than a year and a half, but it is understood ministers are now considering a voluntary ban by football clubs.

The Premier League clubs were due to vote this summer on a ban on front-of-shirt sponsorship, but it was postponed. Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has blamed the “political hiatus” for the delay. It is understood any ban would be phased in.

Carolyn Harris, chair of the all-party parliamentary group for gambling related harm, said: “The stalling of the white paper has emboldened the gambling companies to seek new deals with football clubs. It’s opportunistic of the gambling companies, who know the writing is on the wall. I’m disappointed because we’re talking about a problem which is taking people’s lives.”

Three Premier League clubs, Everton, Fulham and Bournemouth, have agreed new shirt deals with betting operators for the 2022-23 season. Everton announced its “club-record deal” with the casino and sports betting platform Stake.com in June. It has been reported the deal is worth more than £10m a year and will run until at least the end of the 2024-25 season.

The brand will feature on the men’s and women’s playing shirts. The club ended its main previous partnership with the online car retailer Cazoo to secure the new gambling deal. Stake’s global ambassadors include Canadian rapper Drake and the Manchester City striker Sergio Agüero.

Bournemouth also unveiled its deal with global betting brand Dafabet in June. It said the deal would provide “crucial revenue”. Fulham announced its sponsorship deal with W88 last month. The club said: “Presence on the shirt will allow the W88 brand to benefit from the global exposure of the Premier League, broadcast to a worldwide audience of over 3 billionpeople.”

The five other clubs with shirt sponsorship deals are Brentford (Hollywoodbets), Leeds United (SBOTOP), Newcastle United (Fun88), Southampton (Sportsbet.io) and West Ham United (Betway).

There has been mounting concern over the gambling industry’s links with football. The stars who have promoted gambling firms include Alan Shearer, Robbie Savage, Jose Mourinho and Harry Redknapp, but under new advertising rules to be introduced from October, gambling firms will no longer be permitted to use celebrities likely to appeal to under-18s.

The industry previously agreed a ban on betting advertising during live sport that was introduced in August 2019. Under the ban, adverts must not be shown on television from five minutes before a live sporting event begins until five minutes after it ends, prior to the 9pm watershed.While accepting these restrictions on advertising, the gambling industry has been campaigning against a possible crackdown of the sector in the government review. The Observer revealed in May how some of Britain’s betting giants were quietly lobbying Treasury officials against an industry crackdown.

James Grimes, founder of The Big Step campaign, which is campaigning to stop gambling sponsorship in football, said: “Gambling sponsorship has never been more unpopular in clubs and it’s tone deaf of the clubs to announce these new deals.” He said gambling companies would want to be linked to football for as long as possible because it is “a lucrative and impactful way of marketing their products”.Matt Zarb-Cousin, the director of Clean Up Gambling, said the white paper on gambling need to be published as soon as a new prime minister was appointed. He said: “The delay has given gambling operators a great opportunity to not only maintain the current level of promotion, but expand upon it.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We are undertaking the most comprehensive review of gambling laws in 15 years to ensure they are fit for the digital age.

“As we have said all along, we will be publishing a white paper as part of a review of gambling legislation.”

A spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council, which represents some of the UK’s biggest betting firms, said: “The regulated betting and gaming industry provides some of the country’s most popular sport with vital funding, including the English Football League, which receives £40m.

“The government has previously stated research did not establish a causal link between exposure to advertising and the development of problem gambling.”