For a long time now, gambling and sporting events have gone hand in hand. Placing a “cheeky” bet on your football team, laying down an accumulator on a host of matches, or chucking a tenner on the next horse to win a race –it’s never been easier to gamble. Football in particular is one of the most gambled on sports there are, so much so that you’ll find it difficult to watch a match on UK television without ad breaks being littered with betting offers.
Over the past few years, gambling and its advertising has become more strict, yet still issues arise surrounding the idea of gamble awareness, or safe gambling. The FA, as the leading football organisation in England and in partnership with other competitions like the Premier League, has previously taken a firm standpoint on gambling safety with campaigns like “When The Fun Stops” tied hand in hand with match coverage and advertising. Many see these campaigns as a step forward in helping reduce dangerous gambling within sport, while still advertising it safely.
Yet, the FA has recently come under fire from the Gambling Commission regarding selling match rights to gambling sites via International Management Group (IMG). This means that for fans who aren’t at the match in person, the only legal way to stream the game is through gambling sites such as Bet365, Betfair, William Hill, Coral, Ladbrokes, Unibet, and Paddy Power. The controversy of this is that not only does it actively encourage fans to gamble in order to watch football, it actively requires them to – on top of the fact that the FA announced it was cutting its ties with gambling firms in July 2017 (although it is understood the betting rights deal was done earlier than this announcement, in January of the same year).
How the arrangement works is that when on the betting sites (at least in the case of Bet 365), the match streams become available to anyone who has placed a bet or put a deposit in their account within 24 hours prior to the match kick-off time. The UK has a “3pm blackout” which means all games played at 3 o’clock are not allowed to be broadcast live on television –but this law bypasses that, meaning betting companies that stream the games are allowed to show the games as they are technically not shown on TV, but via the internet. Such rules means that gambling becomes a necessity in order to watch the match legally –a decision that has aggravated sports minister Nigel Adams, who claims the government is “very angry” at the FA’s decision, noting particular disappointment that the betting streams comes “on a weekend when the FA very worthily had the Heads Up mental health campaign”(an initiative that pushed the kick-off time of each match back by one minute to allow all involved to take a moment to think about their mental wellbeing). Adams also stated that “[the FA] is also looking at all options to see if this current deal can be restricted”. It is also reported that IMG has sold the rights internationally to external betting companies, although complete details are yet to be confirmed.
The deal shows the FA in poor light, but more importantly, shows football’s willingness to find profit over its audience’s potential ill-wellbeing. While the state of play is likely to change in reaction to this –meaning screening games on betting sites will become further limited –for fans who struggle with gambling addictions, as things stand, they are cornered into placing themselves at risk if they are to watch their team play. Adams also noted that the problem is potentially wider than one FA Cup gameweek, “urg[ing] all other sporting bodies to look at their broadcast agreements”, so perhaps this is just the start of a sea of change.