Football waits for the chips to fall on gambling law reforms

Our team: Thomas Edwards, Alan Wetterhahn

The Culture Secretary for the UK Government has announced a wide-spread review into the UK’s gambling laws (notably the Gambling Act 2005), to ensure that the laws are fit for purpose in the digital age. The review, which closes at the end of March 2021, could have a devastating economic impact on the UK’s professional football teams, which are already suffering severe financial worries due to Covid-19.

The review is set to tackle modern gambling patterns in the digital age, including the proliferation of online gambling (which is heavily advertised in the football industry), the profusion of gambling advertisement online and on TV, and the vulnerability of young people, given their exposure to the industry.

Whilst no specific football-related reforms have yet been announced by the Government, the House of Lords Gambling Industry Committee earlier this year proposed a number of recommendations that may provide a framework for future reform. Those proposals were, in brief:

  • gambling operators should no longer be allowed to advertise on the shirts of sports teams or any other part of their kit;
  • there should be no gambling advertising in or near any sports grounds or sports venues, including in sports programmes;
  • the social responsibility code of practice should be amended to prohibit licensees from offering bet to view inducements, such as making the watching of a sport conditional on having an account with a gambling operator or placing a bet with a gambling operator;
  • advertisements which are objectively seen as offering inducements to people to start or to continue gambling, or which create a sense of urgency about placing bets, should be banned; and
  • the minimum gambling age should be raised to 18.

The above recommendations would have a huge effect on the UK’s football industry, given that a majority of Premier League teams have betting sponsors or partners (with just under half of the league using a gambling operator as their main shirt sponsor), and that figure rises in the Championship. Sponsorship from the gambling industry is said to be worth around £70m a year to the Premier League and £40m a year to the English Football League.

If the above reforms are implemented, broadcasters and English football teams are likely to see decreases in the value of gambling sponsorship and advertisements, and will have to think of innovative ways to provide attractive commercial rights packages for gambling operators.

However, despite the financial considerations, the Government and anti-gambling campaigners have major concerns around the public health issues the gambling can cause. With gambling being so abundant in English football today (it would be difficult to watch or attend a football match without being faced with numerous gambling advertisements) and with the clear parallels this creates for young people who are completely accustomed to associating gambling with football, it would be no surprise to see sweeping reforms proposed in 2021.

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