Britain’s Sports Gambling Venture: A [Not So] Sure Bet
BY: JACKIE ADEDOKUN
Declan Rice of West Ham – One of Nine Premier League Clubs with front-shirt gambling sponsors
In the coming months the Great Britain will be stepping up their review of gambling in the country in an effort to reform their Gambling Act of 2005 (Gambling Act). This important piece of legislation governs all regulation of gambling in Great Britain. Just last week, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, appointed Chris Philip as the new Gambling Minister. Philip is expected to take a more stringent approach to the gambling legislation overhaul than his predecessors, having previously campaigned for stricter regulation on the subject before. One of the biggest changes to possibly come out of this reform will be the banning of gambling sponsors on sports jerseys. This could have huge ramifications for many sporting teams in the UK and none bigger than the Premier League and the Championship.
Of the 20 teams currently apart of the English top flight nine have front shirt sponsorships with gambling companies that are worth $79.22 million (£57.64 million). There are currently six clubs in the Championship with such sponsorships on the front of jerseys. The increased movement to clamp down on gambling’s influence in the sport comes after a greater need to address mental health concerns, decrease gambling addiction, and for prominent sporting leagues to set a better example for all viewers, but especially younger viewers. In the past, teams in both the Premier League and the Championship have decided to not sell children shirts with gambling sponsors on the front of the shirt. Many believe that this in of itself should tell clubs and others alike that gambling should not have a place in football.
In addition to the aforementioned reasons to address gambling’s effect in the UK, the Gambling Act has largely been viewed as outdated. As its name suggest, it was created in 2005 but didn’t take affect until 2007. Its main aims were to keep gambling crime free and promote transparency. However, it has been ill prepared to address online gambling which has exploded in popularity in recent years. The ability to place bets wherever one is, has welcomed a level of comfortability that could not have been foreseen 16 years ago and this has only increased after the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in numerous country-wide lockdowns.
Transparency, or a lack thereof, has also become a major issue in recent years. Under the Gambling Act, gambling operators selling into the British market must have a gambling commission license to transact with and advertise to British consumers. Much to the annoyance of the British government and some British citizens, many foreign-based gambling companies have struck partnerships with UK based companies that hold gambling licenses and then they operate through them. British companies and licenses are at the forefront of some of these gambling operations, but the real owners are not British. In the end it is unclear who exactly is running the business and who bettors are giving their money to.
So, what could a gambling ban mean for the likes of the Premier League and the Championship? Talks of a gambling reform in Britain have been ongoing for years, but even though it is now picking up steam, we probably will not see any real change take affect until the 2023 season. The 21-22 season has just begun and legislation on this matter will most likely go into 2022. Broadcasting rights revenue are massive in the Premier League and will soften the blow if gambling is ousted. Furthermore, different businesses other than gambling will always be looking to sponsor a team in the Premier League given the amount of exposure clubs in that league get. The Championship is a slightly trickier since many teams in this league do not make as much money as those in the Premier League. Additionally, the league’s title sponsor is a gambling company. The official name of the league is the SkyBet Championship. Gambling reform has not arrived yet, but many clubs and leagues are going to have to rethink the sponsorships they have in place.