The UK's Gambling Act 2005 review is expected to end with a blanket sponsorship ban for betting firms – a devastating cut to sport sector funding, particularly for football clubs. The review must consider the wider impact these changes on not just gambling, but the sporting sector as a whole, argues Maksym Liashko.

As the landmark review of the UK's Gambling Act 2005 comes to a close, conversation has stirred around what the proposed rules could mean for the relationship between the gambling and sports industries. The most recent development before the close of the call for evidence was that long-time MP and supposed supporter of the industry, John Whittingdale, was leading the charge following the departure of Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston, which received some criticism. A vocal group believe that blindly enforcing the strictest of regulations will have a significant impact on problem gamblers across the country, but isn't that a short-sighted approach?

Issues considered in the review include looking at limitations placed on the amount a player can bet online, the speed at which an interactive slot machine or FOBT can operate, and whether players need to prove that they can afford their losses. While these aspects represent tangible changes to the player's experience and how they interact with gaming online, we question the rhyme and reason around reviewing the promotion of gambling logos on sporting kit.

A blanket sponsorship ban is anticipated, with little consideration given to the financial impact this will bring to the already struggling sporting sector in the wake of the pandemic.

For years, sports and betting companies in the UK have had a symbiotic relationship, leaning heavily on their mutually beneficial partnerships. Not only do these collaborations bring short-term financial relief, but they also provide longevity and quality to sports, equipping clubs with the ability to invest more in their players. The UK football betting market alone has grown to provide a £1bn a year cash flow, with so many teams relying on their financial relationships with gambling companies to help them climb higher up the league table.

In many ways, the two sectors are inextricably linked, with half of the Premier League football clubs having a gambling sponsor on their shirts. The boost from these sponsorships ensures a team can keep their position as a leading football club, with the extra funding handing them the opportunity to source greater talent, in the form of both coaches and players, and inevitably increasing the engagement from their fans. It is likely that if this change is enforced, the budgets typically allocated towards shirt sponsorship will be redirected into other areas, with other industries benefitting from additional funding at the cost of the football sector.

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We must ask whether the impact will be great enough to justify removing this investment away from sports development. At Parimatch, we sponsor a handful of UK sports clubs including Leicester City and Everton, and to be forced to cease with the financial support we provide, in a time when the entire sporting sector has taken a hit, would have undeniable consequences for their teams.

To single out football shirt sponsorships as a contributor to problem gambling seems unfair and narrow-minded. The changes brought to the industry would not only be felt by singular clubs, but instead, the whole industry.  The Championship League is sponsored by SkyBet, with teams drawn to the prospects and promise of cash in exchange of valuable advertising space. Stoke City F.C, took this opportunity further, partnering with Bet365 to create the 'Bet365' stadium in 2016. A deal which saw the club's ground transform with 1,800 extra seats, taking capacity to more than 30,000, and creating a larger revenue potential and a more exciting experience for fans. This move is a clear indication of how the money generated by sports and betting partnerships can provide a more promising future for clubs.

As an industry, we welcome discussions on the ways we can improve gambling, and conversations have been sparked across neighbouring countries in the EU, putting the wheels in motion to ensure protection of users. New regulations around gambling have been put in place in Italy, with direct and indirect advertising, sponsorship and promotional communication of gambling companies banned across the country. Similarly, in Belgium, although sports betting advertising is still allowed, a ban on casino games advertised on TV has been enforced.

But within the UK industry, many procedures have been put in place. This makes the UK one of the strictest countries for gambling regulations. In 2019, four new laws were introduced to help this, including the reduction of maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals from £100 to £2; the tightening of rules on age verification and identity checks; mandatory requirements on online operators to sign up to GAMSTOP (the national multi-operator online self-exclusion scheme); and the prohibition on use of credit cards to fund gambling activities.

With developments already protecting gamblers from addiction, and many sports and online gaming platforms putting their own initiatives in place, it is difficult to understand how removing gambling logos from sports kits will serve a great impact. Moving forward, it is most important the sports and betting companies continue to take their responsibility of safe-guarding their users seriously.

Regular and clear reviews are necessary in law, and as an industry, we must keep in mind the importance of ensuring the responsible enjoyment of our service. With that said, we encourage those leading the review, to be aware of the effect that drastic changes have on not only the gambling industry, but the sporting sector as a whole, especially the progress and development of football teams across the country. With the past year a challenging one for many, review must provide fair and viable sponsorship options, to enable the future of both the gaming and sporting sectors.

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