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Gambling and football: a toxic relationship

The 2005 Gambling Act

Before the 2005 Gambling Act, the only gambling-related adverts shown on TV in the UK were for the football pools, bingo and the National Lottery. The Gambling Act, which came into force in 2007, essentially deregulated gambling advertising laws and opened the floodgates for TV and, later, online advertising. 

In the five years that followed the 2005 Gambling Act coming into law, the amount of gambling adverts shown on TV rose by a massive 600%, which led to a sharp rise in gambling. By 2016, 42% of adults had gambled in the past year (excluding the National Lottery) and the estimated gross gambling yield (GGY – the amount retained by the gambling industry after operating costs and winnings paid out) for the entire gambling industry stood at £12.6 billion

The gambling industry were quick to cash in on the smartphone revolution in 2016 too. The previous year, in 2015, the gambling industry spent £747 million on direct online advertising, almost double the £376 million they spent in 2014. This rise in spend resulted in a sharp increase in the GGY for online gambling industry alone, from £2.2 billion in 2014, to £5.35 billion in 2018 – an increase of 143% or £2.15 billion. 

Read more: What’s changed since 2005

The smartphone revolution completely changed the way we live our lives. Credit: Shutterstock
The smartphone revolution completely changed the way we live our lives. Credit: Shutterstock

Therein lies the problem 

The problem is that gambling can be a harmful and dangerous product. Anyone can get addicted to gambling and addiction ruins lives. Tragically, there is estimated to be at least one gambling-related suicide every working day in the UK. 

In simple terms, the more gambling is advertised, the more people gamble and, consequently, the more people are harmed by gambling. 

There are estimated to be between 430,000 (Gambling Commission) and 1,400,000 (YouGov) people already addicted to gambling in the UK, with a further 3.6 million (YouGov) affected by someone else’s gambling. Alarmingly, these figures include 55,000 children already addicted to gambling, a figure that rose by 400% between 2016 and 2018 alone.

Gambling in football 

Nowhere is the gambling industry’s pernicious presence felt more than in football. As the nation’s most popular sport, football provides the gambling industry with a unique opportunity to advertise their products to a huge audience: 85% of Premier League and 75% of Championship clubs list a gambling sponsor or partner. As a result, a gambling brand is now visible up to 89% of the time on Match of the Day, which is watched by up to 7 million people each week (including on demand viewers). 

But the problem doesn’t stop at shirts and sponsors. Gambling messages are practically everywhere you look in football. It’s almost impossible to engage with the game without being exposed to some form of gambling advertising or messaging, whether it’s a pop-up ad on a score-checking app, gambling-sponsored tipster content or half-time TV adverts. 

Chris, who is a recovering gambling addict, sees advertising as having played a pivotal part in his addiction: “I remember the first app I downloaded was Bet365, and that was purely because I saw Ray Winstone’s face on the screen… following that one, that’s when I then started downloading others.”

It’s important to remember that gambling harm doesn’t only effect gamblers – those closest to them also experience harm. Janice, who was harmed by her husband’s gambling, said: “It [advertising] played a big role, because every time he saw it come up on the tele, regarding betting, he wanted to gamble and it just gave him more opportunities because it was there in front of his face, all the time. “

Just a handful of the many Premier League and Championship clubs with betting kit sponsors. Credit: The Big Step
Just a handful of the many Premier League and Championship clubs with betting kit sponsors. Credit: The Big Step


Through advertising, gambling is normalised as a harmless ‘bit of fun’, something communal to be a part of that enhances enjoyment of football. For many, this depiction couldn’t be further from the truth, especially when you consider that the gambling industry pushes their most profitable – and addictive – products the hardest. This point is underlined by the findings of a House of Lords Gambling Committee study that found that 60% of the gambling industry’s profits come from just 5% of gamblers – those who are already addicted or at serious risk of becoming addicted.

Bray, a recovering gambling addict, recalls one particular advert that really made an impression on him: “One of the ones I remember the most is a Ladbrokes advert, where they had a group of friends, young men in their late teens and early twenties. They went round and said what kind of person and gambler each member of the friendship group was. That advert was really aimed at young people and was essentially saying ‘yeah it’s normal for you to gamble and if you’re not doing it then you’re missing out on something’.”

Young people at risk

We know that gambling adverts are incredibly effective, especially with a younger audience. In 2020 researchers at Ipsos Mori and the University of Stirling found that 96% of people aged between 15 and 24 had seen gambling marketing messages in the last month and were more likely to place a bet as a result and in 2019, the UK advertising watchdog (ASA) caught five gambling firms breaking strict rules that ban targeting children with advertising. 

The official Twitter accounts of some Premier League clubs, Arsenal to name one, have even begun directly promoting gambling operators to their followers. Statista estimate that 30.7% of Twitter users are young people and 9.1% of the overall users are children. Using this research and Arsenal as an example, who have 17 million Twitter followers, we can calculate that 5.1million young people and over 1.5 million children are potentially being exposed to direct gambling promotion. And that’s just one club.

Ricky, who is a recovering gambling addict, describes how advertisements effected his recovery: “I got the point where I had nothing, but the advertisements and offers I kept seeing kept dragging me back into gambling, even more beyond my means than I already had. It made me lose all control.” 

Gambling messages are everywhere in football. Credit: Shutterstock
Gambling messages are everywhere in football. Credit: Shutterstock

Exploiting passion

By flooding football with betting messages and gambling marketing, gambling operators are able to exploit passionate fans and their love of the game. This also makes it very difficult for fans to separate football from gambling, as the two have seemingly been fused together.

Hussain remembers how advertising was the catalyst for his addiction, which corrupted his passion: “I’m a huge Manchester United fan. I followed them through England and Europe in the eighties, nineties and the early noughties. The gambling adverts around the stadium, within the football industry as whole and on the football t-shirts – I saw them more and more, and it really, really got to me. It got to the point where I had to stay away from football, because all I could see was gambling – it was everywhere I looked.” 

Since the 2005 Gambling Act gave them licence to advertise more or less as they wished, the gambling industry has been allowed to hitch their harmful products to the beautiful game and reach a sweeping audience, exponentially increasing their profits.  

Unsurprisingly, this pernicious process has come at huge cost to public health and has triggered a steep increase in the amount of people harmed by gambling. 

Thankfully, with the Government currently reviewing the 2005 Gambling Act, we have a chance to achieve change that will benefit public health. 

The Government’s choice is simple: private profit or public health. 

It’s time for this toxic relationship to end. 

Support us: please sign and share our petition.

Read more: The Call for Evidence Explained