UK Government to Ban Betting Sponsorships for Professional Soccer Teams

  • According to Sportsmail, the UK government intends to ban front-of-shirt sponsorships in soccer
  • The measure comes as part of a review of the Gambling Act 2005, the UK’s gambling law
  • A ban would have a large impact on Premier League teams, with 45% sponsored by betting firms
  • Other changes could also arise from the review, including potential stakes limits for iGaming
Wolverhampton Wanderers soccer player
English Premier League teams with front-of-shirt sports betting ads could soon have to lose them as the government is reportedly set to introduce a ban as part of a review of the Gambling Act 2005. [Image:]

New laws in the works

Soccer goes hand in hand with sports betting in the UK, and that partnership has ramped up over recent years. Nine of the English Premier League’s 20 soccer teams have front-of-shirt sponsorship deals with betting companies this season. A government review into the nation’s gambling laws could soon see that relationship change.

The UK government is currently reviewing the Gambling Act 2005, with plans to publish its proposals in a white paper by the end of 2021 or early 2022. According to a Wednesday report from Sportsmail, officials intend to include a ban on sponsorship agreements between betting firms and soccer teams among their list of proposals.

operators may still have the option of advertising via pitchside boards or TV commercials

Media reports suggest the measure will most likely only impact front-of-shirt sponsorships. This means operators may still have the option of advertising via pitchside boards or television commercials. Regardless, any changes will not come into effect until 2023 at the earliest.

A big change for UK soccer

In total, 45% of the Premier League’s teams have front-of-shirt sponsorship deals with betting companies this year. Among others, this includes Leeds United, Watford, Brentford, Newcastle United, and West Ham United. Meanwhile, all but one of the league’s 20 teams have a betting deal in some form or another.

Gambling opponents in the UK have argued that severing ties between the nation’s favorite sport and gambling could help in the fight against addiction. As reported by Sportsmail, James Grimes, founder of the Big Step Campaign, described a potential ban as a “welcome and significant acceptance of the harm caused by gambling advertising in football.” He even urged the government to go one step further and ban other forms of betting advertising in the sport.

In contrast, proponents of gambling advertising in soccer have argued that the industry provides UK leagues with vital revenue. In response to the government’s call for evidence earlier this year, Premier League officials argued that there is no definitive link between sponsorship and problem gambling. League representatives urged the government not to implement change unless they could find a replacement for the sponsorship revenue.

Last year, a House of Lords Select Committee report backed a ban on front-of-shirt betting sponsorships in soccer. However, the cross-party committee recommended that such a law should only go into effect for leagues below the Premier League by 2023. It argued that this would allow smaller clubs to find alternative revenue sources in time for the change.

‘White label’ deals in firing line

In addition to targeting front-of-shirt sponsorships, a Guardian report has revealed that MPs are also looking to reform laws in regards to the ‘white label’ system. This allows overseas betting companies to form sponsorship deals with UK-based soccer clubs, permitting them to market via shirts and pitchside hoardings in countries where gambling is illegal.

a massive loophole”

As reported by the Guardian, a source familiar with the matter has described the ‘white label’ deals as “a massive loophole,” adding that they would be “amazed” if MPs did not take action to eradicate the system. Any ban would mainly effect betting companies from Asian countries, such as China and Thailand.

Earlier this year, a Sunday Times investigation found that around 700 unlicensed gambling operators in the UK take advanatage of the ‘white label’ loophole. These companies pay another firm to use their license to avoid the usual checks from authorities.

Other reform on the way?

As part of its review of the Gambling Act 2005, the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport is reportedly considering a string of changes to the nation’s gambling laws. In addition to a ban on gambling advertising in soccer, the government will also mull stakes limits for online casino sites and a possible prohibition of controversial loot boxes in video games.

should have done more to protect the site’s customers

Added to this, the UK Gambling Commision’s (UKGC) powers in regulating the industry are also under review. On Wednesday, MPs published the results of an inquiry into the regulator and its role in the collapse of Bet Index-owned sports betting website Football Index. Officials determined that the body should have done more to protect the site’s customers in the two years leading up to the crash.

The UK’s new Gambling Minister Chris Philp confirmed that the findings of the Football Index investigation will feed directly into the ongoing Gambling Act review. Meanwhile, a group of MP’s called the All Party Betting and Gaming Group has launched its own investigation into the UKGC with the hope of providing evidence for Gambling Act reform.

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