Pressure continues to mount on the government to provide a definitive resolution on Premier League and EFL clubs’ commercial relationships with bookmakers.
As DCMS outlines that the government will aim to publish long-delayed Gambling Review amendments in February, industry reformists continue to demand that football bosses ensure drastic changes to the relationship between betting and the sport.
The new year kicked-off with Championship club Sheffield Wednesday rebuked for entering a partnership with William Hill to launch “Home Shops” in the Hillsborough Stadium.
The move was branded as a “Honey Trap” by Gambling with Lives (GWL), the organisation that leads calls for the strictest tightening of gambling laws to protect vulnerable players from suicide.
Sheffield Wednesday is said to have followed Aston Villa in announcing an “unrivalled in-stadium partnership” with William Hill, as it remains unknown whether the government will intervene in football’s relationship with betting – recognised as one of the Review’s most divisive conflicts.
GWL branded Wednesday bosses as irresponsible for allowing the club to enter an in-stadia partnership with a betting sponsor following the tragic death of Lewis Keogh, a 34-year old club supporter who took his life owing £55,000 of gambling debts.
Sheffield MP Gill Furniss noted the Keogh family’s grief, demanding Wednesday drop the partnership – “I am standing with families bereaved by gambling-related suicide in urging William Hill and Sheffield Wednesday to remove club branding and imagery from gambling-related promotions and products.
“The Government must use its long-overdue gambling white paper to reset the relationship between gambling and football. It must end gambling sponsorship in football and step in to curtail partnerships like this, to protect young fans from harm, addiction, and even suicide.”
GWL’s ‘Big Step’ campaign continues to grow in significance across political ranks, as founders Liz and Charles Ritchie, who established the reform group following the death of their son Jack Ritchie, were awarded MBEs recognised in the government’s New Year’s Honours List.
The campaign reaffirmed that gambling requires a “statutory levy on gambling industry profits, administered by an independent levy board led by the Department of Health, to pay for independent information, research, treatment, and education.”
Furthermore, the UK government must ensure that each gambling suicide is independently investigated to determine any system failings.
Football finds itself at the centre of conflicts, as clubs are accused of ‘normalising gambling’ by becoming a vehicle for bookmakers to spread a “misled industry-controlled narrative on responsible and safer gambling”.
Industry reformists state that football cannot be allowed to determine its future with gambling, regardless of any commercial impact – an outcome that will likely require government arbitration.
PM Rishi Sunak is determined to settle a Conservative Party manifesto pledge by reforming UK gambling, demanding that MPs show unity on final outcomes related to credit checks, affordability and stake limits.
Despite outlining his determination to settle gambling matters, the PM and his cabinet remain silent on intervening or mediating changes in football’s relationship with bookmakers.
Having taken leadership of a divided party, does Sunak want football to become another fractious point in his early premiership?