An open letter to the FA and the Football League on problem gambling

Sky bet
Dear the Football Association (FA) and Football League,

How’s it going? I was wondering if you fancied making a small bet? My proposal, should you wish to gamble, is that your willingness to let betting companies slowly infiltrate the beautiful game will have helped destroy football fans lives up and down the country?

What do you think….want to take the bet?

You see, I’m willing to bet that when you accepted Sky Bet as the official sponsor for the Football League and William Hill as an ‘Official Supporter’ for the England team and ‘Official Betting Partner’ for the FA Cup, no one sought out gambling addiction specialists to assess how these sponsorship deals might affect the ordinary football fan.

I might be wrong…but I reckon it’s worth a punt.

Of late my facebook page has been slowly filling up with Sky Bet spam posted by the League 2 club that I support – Cheltenham Town. This got me thinking.

It is estimated that there are 450,000 “problem gamblers” in the UK (according to the most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey). So out of a population of 63.23 million (2012) that makes approximately 1 in 140 us “problem gambler”.

If we assume that the average football fan is no more or less likely to develop a gambling addiction, this would suggest that there about 21 gambling addicts at every Cheltenham Town home match (a rough attendance is about 3,000).  If you replicate the maths for say an average Arsenal home game (60,000) you have about 430 addicts in the stadium alone.

The actual reach of English football though, as the betting companies know all too well, goes well into the millions. In short, statistically through these sponsorship deals Sky Bet and William Hill will be reaching thousands of problem gamblers.

Do you think it’s problematic that in return for a few million pounds (the Sky Bet deal was reported to be worth £5-6 million a year) you place adverts for companies that profiteer off others addictions?

You see this is something that affects my generation more than yours (I am making an assumption about the average age of an employee in the FA) as most people my age have smartphones.

With the advancement of ‘in-play betting’ (often with half time adverts around the stadiums and on TV adverts) accessed by smartphones the chances of problem gambling increases massively. Long-gone are the days of placing just one bet before a match.

In addition to your sponsorship deals, we also have Stoke, Fulham and Aston Villa who all play in shirts sponsored by gambling companies.

Is it possible any longer for a football fan to go a match without being exposed to betting adverts?

As far as I can see, one of the following three scenarios has to be true:

  • You didn’t work out what impact these sponsorship deals will have on fans who are, or soon will be, problem gamblers.
  • You knew full well what the impact would be but thought fuck it, these guys are offering us millions of pounds…and then started cackling.
  • You have done a proper social assessment on the impact of betting companies sponsorship deals on football that has been endorsed as being fair and balanced (not a re-hash of the industry statistics).

I am hoping the latter is true, in which case I look forward to seeing it (I couldn’t find it on either of your websites). I would also love to know where in this assessment you drew the line between financial gain and possible risk – how many football fans would have to develop problematic gambling habits for you to worry about accepting millions of pounds?).

If either of the former is true you’re either incompetent or heartless or both.

I look forward to your response on this one. Although, I am willing to take a bet that I won’t hear back from you on this one.

With love for the beautiful game and my fellow football fans,

Steve Hynd

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