What are the Odds? Will Football Give Up Gambling?

It is now nearly impossible to watch a game of football without seeing logos of gambling websites on players’ shirts. In fact, 60% of top two division teams are sponsored by them[1]. There is no doubt that sport and gambling are intrinsically linked, and have been forever. But has it become more sinister than the days of your grandfather going down to the bookies to lay a fiver on his favourite team?
Gambling is now more accessible than ever. It is only ever a computer-click away, and smartphone apps now allow punters to lay bets within seconds. We are a country with 430,000 problem gamblers, and have the most relaxed online gambling regulations in Europe. Mark Etches, the chief executive of GambleAware, believes that we now “have a generation of fans who believe you have to bet on football to enjoy it […] watching football and having a bet is being normalised but we’re not talking about it”[2].
The potential for online gambling to be abused is not limited to legal users. A survey in 2017 by the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board found that 12% of 11 to 15 year olds said that they had gambled in the last week[3], and there are an estimated 25,000 children addicted to gambling in the UK[4].
The money gambling generates does not just flow from punter’s wallets into the bookies’ pockets. Online gambling sites and bookies spent £60 million on sponsoring football teams in 2017, and £234 million on television advertising[5]. This is all part of a spend of £1.561 billion pounds in total advertising costs. In the last World Cup, there was so much advertising for gambling that the Remote Gambling Association had to succumb to campaign pressure and voluntarily withdraw their adverts during match play before the 9 o’clock watershed. The impact of advertising on people’s betting is also very high; in the same year, the charity Gamble Aware found that 35% of people who had gambled had done so as a result of an online advert[6].
It is not just the fans who are at risk of becoming addicted. Several high profile names in the sport have also admitted to problem gambling, despite the fact that it is banned for footballers to bet on the outcome of matches. In 2017 Joey Barton was banned for 18 months and fined £30,000 for having bet on a total of 1,620 games, 42 of which involved his own team, and 15 of these were on his team to lose. This is double the amount of time that Eric Cantona was banned for fly kicking a spectator – showing how seriously the Football Association take gambling[7]. He later had this ban reduced on appeal, and has admitted to being addicted to gambling. He even went as far as to state that he estimated “50% of the playing staff” gamble on matches and that it is “culturally ingrained”[8]. It is worth noting that despite all his knowledge of football, he actually managed to lose £1,199.40 over the course of his betting[9].
While this loss of earnings may seem like peanuts in proportion to a footballer’s salary, there are players who have lost a whole lot more to gambling addiction. Former Newcastle and Sunderland striker Micheal Chopra has estimated that he gambled and lost from £1.5-2 million pounds[10]. He said that his gambling started on the team bus on the way to matches, with players casually betting up to 30,000 in cash with each other[11]. This escalated to organised gambling and his debts mounted. Despite earning good money Chopra was having loan sharks turn up to his training ground and threatening his family, and eventually his father had to sell off his house to pay off some of his debts.
So is the problem with gambling and football being addressed? In 2017 the FA ended their sponsorship with Ladbrokes, although it remains up to clubs to decide if they want to be sponsored by a gambling company. The English Football League are still sponsored by Sky Bet but will feature a new marketing campaign to try to help curb problem gambling, with players wearing an armband promoting a responsible gambling message. Several footballers have spoken out against gambling within the industry, with companies like EPIC Risk Management using ex-players like Scott Davies to educate clubs on the risks[12]. Some of the UK’s biggest gambling firms are also offering an increased levy on their profits, which will give an extra £100 million to gambling charities[13].
Whilst it is clear that people are starting to take notice of the problem of gambling in football, the amount of profit that it makes for companies is increasing every year. Until this is more tightly regulated by the government, there is no way that companies are going to willingly kill their golden goose and regulate themselves.

[1] Gambling firms agree ‘whistle-to-whistle’ television sport advertising ban, Richard Conway, 2018,  https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/46453954 accessed 13/9/2019
[2] Number of clubs sponsored by betting firms is ‘disturbing’, say campaigners, by Press Association, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2018/jul/30/campaigners-concerned-championship-efl-clubs-sponsored-betting accessed 13/9/2019
[3] Children, young people, and gambling, by Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, 2018, http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/PDF/RGSB-Gambling-and-children-and-young-people-2018.pdf accessed 13/9/2019
[4] Children ‘bombarded’ with betting adverts during World Cup, Pamela Duncan, Rob Davies and Sweeney,2018, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/jul/15/children-bombarded-with-betting-adverts-during-world-cup accessed 13/9/2019
[5] GAMBLING ADVERTISING AND MARKETING SPEND IN GREAT BRITAIN, 2014-17, Regulus Partners, 2017, accessed 13/9/2019 https://about.gambleaware.org/media/1853/2018-11-24-rp-ga-gb-marketing-spend-infographic-final.pdf
[6] Does football have a gambling problem?, Ciaran Varley, 2018,accessed 13/9/2019 https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/b542778d-871f-4716-abfb-0afb91fa7770
[7] Joey Barton’s ban for gambling on football was ‘shortest possible’, says FA, Paul MacInnes and Paul Wilson, 2017, accessed 13/9/2019 https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/apr/27/joey-barton-football-association-ban-gambling
[8] Joey Barton claims 50% of professional footballers bet on matches, BBC News, accessed 13/9/2019 https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/42783527
[9] Joey Barton exposes himself as a terrible gambler in defence of his ban, Telegraph Sport, 2017, accessed 13/9/2019 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2017/04/26/joey-barton-exposes-terrible-gambler-defence-ban/
[10] Which footballer lost £2million because of a gambling addiction?, by Joe, accessed 13/9/2019 https://www.joe.ie/uncategorized/which-footballer-lost-2million-because-of-a-gambling-addiction-28944
[11] Ibid.
[12] This footballer lost over £200,000 to gambling. Now he helps others who are struggling, Ciaran Varley, 2018, accessed 13/9/2019 https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/a35b72fb-6035-4ccc-90bc-f2a93c4d3671
[13] Bookmakers pledge £100m to avoid gambling crackdown, Simon Jack, 2019, accessed 13/9/2019 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48690743

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