In this guest blog, Director of Research at Health Equalities Group, Dr Robin Ireland, explores how changes to gambling regulation in the early 2000s, paved the way for the normalisation of sports betting in the UK and how it is affecting children and young people.
The 2005 Gambling Act in the UK liberalised gambling laws and enabled the growth of online gambling and gambling advertising. This can be seen very clearly in the Premier League. The very first Premier League club to carry a gambling brand on the front of their shirt, was Fulham F.C. in 2002/03.
In 2005/06 only Middlesbrough did the same. But the numbers went up rapidly in the following seasons and it is commonplace for around half of Premier League clubs to have gambling companies as their main sponsors, but many also have additional commercial partnerships to enable gambling brands to target audiences in Asia, Africa and North America, even in countries where gambling is illegal (such as in China).
Professional clubs now no longer only carry gambling brands on the front of their shirts. The brands can also be seen on shirt sleeves, on coach’s uniforms, on the teams’ match dug-outs, on banners beside the pitch, on the LED displays which change during matches, on training tops, and even on club’s Community Foundation’s tracksuits at times.
It is impossible to avoid seeing these brands. In research I undertook for Channel 4 in February 2021, I, and my fellow researcher counted 716 separate brand references in the Premier League game played between Newcastle United and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
This level of marketing has consequences. Clearly it is intended to encourage more people to gamble; and the profits of companies like bet365 and Flutter (the owners of Paddy Power, Betfair, and Sky Betting and Gaming) show how successful this marketing is.
We now have young people, who have been born since the 2005 Gambling Act, who have grown up watching football on multiple digital devices in which you can bet on actions on one screen whilst the live action continues on another. There is no question that this level of gambling marketing not only encourages betting, it also normalises betting as the best and most exciting way to enjoy watching live football.
Just check out the advertisements that come before and after the Premier League matches – conveniently dodging the voluntary whistle-to-whistle ban. They focus on fun and ensure that betting is considered risky. The ads use celebrity ambassadors, comedy whenever they can, and portray gamblers having a laugh with their mates. And, of course, offer ‘free’ bets to draw you in.
This level of marketing is inappropriate and damaging both to sport and its followers. It’s about time we stopped allowing sport to promote betting just to make bigger profits for gambling companies. Our sports and fans deserve better.
Dr Robin Ireland, Director of Research, Health Equalities Group
 The legal age for gambling in the UK is 18 years of age.