Analysis: Is banning betting sponsorships a good idea?

A not-so-recent push to ban betting shirt sponsorships has resumed following a report published by the House of Lords in the United Kingdom.

The Lords’ report, published by their own Gambling Industry Committee, insisted that harms caused by gambling needed to be addressed by calling for “urgent action” on the matter – and this call included a ban on sports sponsorships. This may come as somewhat hypocritical considering that one of the exemptions from this would be for horseracing and greyhound racing – a favourite of the sources of the report.

Lord Michael Grade Lord Michael Grade, Chair of Gambling Industry Committee (image: Parliament Website).

Lord Grade of Yarmouth, the Committee Chair, insisted that urgent action by the Government is required, and that “lax regulation” must be replaced by “a more robust and focussed regime which prioritises the welfare of gamblers ahead of industry profits”.

Lord Grade made no mention of the welfare of those who enjoyed horseracing and greyhounds.

Where does the industry stand?

The 192-page report comes amid a Government pledge by the minister to review the Gambling Act of 2005.

In response, the English Football League (EFL) said that the gambling sector contributes £40 million a season to the league and its clubs and with the financial problems that came with the COVID-19 pandemic, this “significant” contribution is “as important now as it has ever been”.

The report did admit that this ban would “very probably have a serious effect on smaller clubs”, and compromised that the restrictions should not take effect for clubs below the Premier League before 2023. They noted that similar flexibility should be allowed in the case of other sports, again, excluding horseracing or greyhound racing.

As far back as January (at least), the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) had confirmed that it was committed to reviewing regulations around the marketing of gambling in sport. This included the backing from the Labour opposition who were reportedly backing a blanket ban on shirt sponsorships.

Bookmakers even said that they are considering a voluntary ban on shirt sponsorships and perimeter advertising boards during a Committee on February 4th. They also pointed out that certain operators used 70% of the inventory they hold through its sponsorship deal with the English Football League to promote responsible gambling messages.

Reports in the media paint the picture that the CEOs and persons speaking at the committee were willing to voluntarily take action without the Government imposing regulatory bans on them. Such regulatory bans tend to impact smaller businesses in ways that larger, more established companies.

Later on in the month, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) had, in fact, highlighted steps taken voluntarily after campaign groups had called for a ban on gambling sponsorships in football and TV advertising.

football players Shirts may end up without betting sponsorships.

At home and abroad

The British government is not the only regulatory body being bombarded with calls to relax or tighten their respective regulations.

In March, the Italian Serie A asked for the gambling advertising rules to be relaxed due to the financial hardships the COVID-19 pandemic had caused, amongst a number of other recommendations. This came in-tandem with Italy’s land-based gambling operators having been granted a tax break as part of the economic relief package aimed at individuals and businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

The Spanish La Liga saw even further restrictions as they just restarted the season with a betting sponsorship ban. This includes logos on jerseys, at stadiums, TV broadcasts and advertising boards for interviews. Restrictions also include only allowing gambling companies to advertise from 1am to 5am.

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