This week has seen a glimpse of the problems that face the UK gambling industry in the coming months and years. The English Premier League has announced that clubs have agreed to end front-of-shirt sponsorship by gambling companies by the end of the 2025-26 season.
The news comes while the wait continues for the publication of the UK Government’s White Paper on gambling reform. There’s still no indication just when it will be published and it’s causing great uncertainty in the UK gambling industry, said a British Gambler spokesperson. Just how are gambling businesses expected to make plans for the future when not knowing what measures the government will be imposing on them?
There have been strong calls by anti-gambling campaigners for a total ban on gambling sponsorship in sport. The UK Government hasn’t been pushing for that and preferred a situation where the clubs themselves decided to take some action on the issue.
At present there are eight English Premier League clubs that have front-of–shirt sponsorship by a gambling company. It’s estimated that the deals are worth £80 million. The announcement made this week is not going to be good news for campaigners as there will still be some gambling related sponsorship after the 2025-26 season.
English Premier League clubs will continue to allow gambling brands to sponsor shirt sleeves and there’ll be no ending of LED advertising at grounds. Clubs will also be able to arrange new front-of-shirt deals before the deadline that has been set. There is no indication that the Scottish Premier Football League will follow suit.
Betfred are the current official gambling partner of Manchester United. Over at the Etihad, Manchester City have a deal with LeoVegas.
The decision has been welcomed by Lucy Frazer who is the latest Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The past year has seen several MPs appointed to that post. While the MP said that “the vast majority of adults gamble safely,”she added that it is important to recognise that “footballers are role models who have enormous influence on young people.”
Will the UK Government be satisfied with the decision made by the English Premier League? It could be that they see this as the first step down the road that eventually saw tobacco sponsorship in sport banned.
While on one hand we’ve seen this announcement, there’s also been news from Betfred. The gambling company has announced that they will be sponsoring the Derby and The Oaks from this year. How much advertising of a gambling product will that see on television screens?
The news from the Premier League hasn’t been received well by campaigning group The Big Step. While seeing the move as “a significant acceptance of the harm caused by gambling sponsorship,” more action needs to be taken. Allowing gambling-related logos on other areas of their shirts plus pitch-side advertising is “totally incoherent.”
Now it’s going to be interesting to see what will happen in the English Football League (EFL). They are sponsored by Sky Bet and ending that deal could see around £40 million a year being lost.
Whereas the Premier League clubs won’t have too difficult a task to find new sponsors, the same might not apply for the 72 teams in the EFL.
Sponsorship of sports events is important to gambling companies. It gives them an ideal opportunity to spread news of the products that they offer. There has already been action taken that limits the times that betting adverts can be broadcast on television even though LED and other forms of sponsorship are present at all times during sports events.
While the voluntary ban doesn’t come into place until 2026, this year is still a worrying one for the UK gambling industry. There is so much uncertainty about just what the UK Government’s White Paper contains.
The last Gambling Act came into force 18 years ago. There has been such tremendous change in the industry since then due to the introduction of online gambling. It’s accepted that there is a need to bring the current legislation into the digital age and it’s unlikely to be good news for the many online sites in the UK.
While there is hope that the planned measures will be fair and based on evidence, it’s unlikely to help profits. There is talk of a compulsory levy being placed on the profits of gambling companies.
Another suggested measure is the introduction of maximum stake limits for games at online casinos. Recent reports have suggested this could be as low as £2 for gamblers aged under 25. Such a move would hit the profits of gambling companies.
With other measures likely to include increased affordability checks and the UK Gambling Commission continually fining companies, it’s a worrying time. Whatever does happen, it doesn’t look as if anyone is going to be satisfied with what the White Paper contains.
Planning ahead for the future is not an easy task at present and many gambling companies are looking at other markets that may prove easier to exist in.