Academic study to probe betting sponsorships' public health impact

Academic study to probe betting sponsorships’ public health impact

An academic research project backed by £1.6m in funding has been launched as a ‘direct response’ to the government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act.

The project will be conducted by the University of Nottingham, University of Glasgow and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, with financial backing from the Welcome Institute.

Addressing and building on a common talking point seen throughout the debate on the Gambling Act review, the research will examine gambling’s impact on public health, particularly with regards to sports sponsorships.

Anna Greenwood, Professor of Health History at the University of Nottingham, said: “We are so excited to have achieved this award which will show just how important historical precedents have been in shaping contemporary responses to sports sponsorship by unhealthy industries. We need to better understand the past to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.”

Researchers noted that the Gambling Act review White Paper had a number of proposed reforms for casino gaming – such as slot stake limits – but ‘failed to place any definitive restrictions on gambling sponsorships in professional sport’.

This may be something of an overstatement on the researcher’s part as the White Paper did feature a ‘Code of Conduct’ on how sports clubs’ relationships with betting operators should be responsibly played out.

However, the researcher’s are correct that sports marketing and sponsorship was addressed a lot less in the White Paper than many, particularly reform advocates, were hoping for.

It had previously been stated under then-PM Boris Johnson – under whom the review originated – that a ban on betting sponsorships was a ‘likely’ outcome of the review. 

However, when the Premier League took it upon itself to phase out front-of-shirt sponsorships by the 2026/27 season, it seems the government removed this ban from its list of White Paper priorities.

The research – titled Kicking the Habit: Historicising ‘Addictive’ Sport Sponsorship in Britain, 1965-2025’ – will examine the gambling industry’s relationship with football, rugby, cricket, Formula One and tennis over a 10–year period.

Gambling is not the only industry under the spotlight, however, as sports’ association with alcohol and tobacco, as two other industries associated with addiction and harm, will also be assessed.

Researchers hope that data will show how sponsorships were established and have evolved over time, how precedents were set and regulatory limitations were negotiated or elided during the period when unhealthy sports sponsorship boomed in Britain”.

Heather Wardle, Professor of Gambling Research and Policy at the University of Glasgow and Co-Director of Gambling Research Glasgow, added: “Given the near ubiquity of professional football and gambling partnerships, it’s often difficult to remember that it didn’t used to be this way. 

“As the gambling industry extends their partnerships with other sports, it’s vital to explore the actions they took to establish this “new normal”. This project will examine how commercial power and decision-making has influenced our sporting environments and what should be done about it.”

Once the results of the research become public, the data may further inform the debate around betting sponsorships in UK sport as well as the framing of gambling as a public health issue.

The latter has been a key area of discussion as well as a focus of many reform advocates, including GambleAware and the Social Market Foundation (SMF), and was the subject of an Office of Health Improvement and Disparity (OHID) report prior to the White Paper publication.

Alex Mold, Associate Professor in History at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, remarked: “Alcohol, tobacco, and gambling have many things in common, especially the harm they can cause. But these products, and the industries that lie behind them, are also different. By exploring their histories, we will explain why, and show how, this continues to matter today.”

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