Through the Gambling White Paper, the government has at least acknowledged that gambling harms are a serious public health issue, but the proposals put forward are timid and demonstrate the significant lobbying power of the gambling industry to weaken efforts to minimise harm.
Each year, we lose hundreds of lives to gambling-related suicide. Even more are at risk of serious harms to their health, their finances, and their relationships. Further still must cope with loved ones with depression, debt, and destructive behaviour including alcohol and substance misuse as well as violence and crime.
Whilst the white paper sets out a range of measures to reduce gambling-related harms, there remains substantial concern that the proposals put forward are not adequate to deal with the scale and complexity of harms.
Responding to the publication of the White Paper, Michael Viggars, Against the Odds campaign lead said:
“Whilst it is pleasing to see that the government has recognised gambling harms as a public health issue, it is clear they are yet to fully comprehend the sophisticated strategies deployed by the gambling industry to market harmful products through sport.
“On a daily basis, children and young people are being exposed to harmful gambling products on the shirts of their favourite players, but also in historic stadia and through broadcast television. But so are their mothers and fathers, aunties and uncles, and even their grandparents. These are the very people who will raise the next generation. If they suffer gambling harms, their children will too.
“Over the last decade, the gambling industry has relentlessly promoted sports betting and other gambling services through sport and developed and gamified Apps and algorithms to hook us into this behavioural addiction. This has led to a normalisation of sports betting to the point where an increasing number of fans, including children and young people, are experiencing dire consequences, during a once in a generation cost of living crisis.
“Most troublingly, sports generally but particularly football, are being used to push, poke, prod and cajole fans to bet on their favourite teams, with more money, more frequently. And because the brands that are present in sport also operate other products including but not limited to casino-style games, the beautiful game and associated sports betting behaviour is acting as a gateway into more harmful forms of gambling.”
The recent voluntary agreement from Premier League clubs to remove front of shirt gambling sponsors is at least an admission of the harms caused by gambling sponsorship by a major sports organisation. However, this policy, that won’t come into force until the start of the 2026/27 season, does not prevent clubs from having gambling logos on sleeves, pitchside advertising, branding around dugouts, or branding around press backdrops. If back-of-shirt sponsorship is introduced as it is in Germany, gambling sponsors could appear there too.
This policy also doesn’t prevent leagues and national governing bodies from holding title sponsor arrangements directly with gambling companies such as the English Football League’s arrangement with Sky Bet. All things considered; it is unlikely that this voluntary agreement will have any meaningful impact in terms of reducing gambling harms. Gambling brands will remain embedded in sport and the data they collect can be used to target individuals with more harmful products.
Regarding the Premier League’s voluntary commitment, Michael added:
“Within sport and government there persists a fallacy that UK sport would become uncompetitive if gambling sponsorship is prohibited. The reality is that due to a lack of robust legislation in the UK, clubs now hold a significant advantage over their European counterparts who are increasingly subjected to strong legislation prohibiting sponsorship of teams and events.
“Not only do European teams remain competitive, as evidenced at the very top of the football pyramid with two Italian teams and one Spanish team featuring in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League this season, they are also subjected to the same financial pressures as UK clubs. These include rising player salaries, transfer fees, agent fees, stadium maintenance costs and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But crucially, they don’t have the broadcast might of the Premier League. If they can manage without gambling sponsorship, we can too.
“Our task now is to continue to build momentum within sport to go much further than what the government is proposing in the Gambling White Paper and aim to relegate all types of gambling sponsorship and advertising of sport to history.
“To do this we’ll need support partners in public health, in academia, from individuals with lived experience of gambling harms and from fans generally to make the case for change.”
A growing number of clubs are reflecting on their relationship with gambling brands thanks to the hard work of campaign organisations such as the Big Step. Arguably the biggest club to take a stand on the issue of gambling sponsorship is Bolton Wanderers Football Club.
Despite being a member of the English Football League, sponsored by Sky Bet, Bolton Wanderers and their community trust, took the bold step of supporting the Against the Odds charter last year, which includes a range of voluntary commitments to reduce fans’ exposure to gambling advertising and eventually, move away from gambling sponsorship entirely.