The ‘loophole’ that allows foreign betting companies to advertise English and Scottish football team jerseys and pitch-side billboards is likely to be removed as part of government plans to to reduce the influence of games of chance on gambling.
Ministers finalizing a draft reform of gambling laws are expected to unveil their proposals in a few weeks, with an outright ban on betting company logos appearing on soccer jerseys seen as a strong possibility.
The CEO of the English Football League, which is sponsored by SkyBet, on Thursday called the prospect “worrying”.
The Guardian understands that ministers are also considering moving beyond shirt sponsorship by tackling the controversial “white label” system used by foreign betting companies, mainly from Asian countries such as China and Thailand, to make lucrative sponsorship deals.
These companies can access English and Scottish football through partnerships with small companies holding a UK gaming license, a requirement for companies wishing to advertise in the UK.
‘White label’ companies, often based in jurisdictions such as the Isle of Man or Malta, effectively lease their licenses to foreign brands, which can then sell via shirts and pitchside signs to fans in the country. countries where gambling is illegal and cannot be advertised. .
The regime has expressed concerns about the lack of transparency regarding the ownership of companies displayed on football club jerseys and the operation of such companies.
“It’s a huge loophole,” said a source close to the review, adding that they would be “astonished” if the white label system survived.
The white-label ban would prevent these businesses from advertising on pitchside billboards, which frequently display betting promotions in a variety of languages, as well as on shirts.
But the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) has also questioned whether to ban even UK-based companies on the front of soccer jerseys, amid concerns about the impact on children and vulnerable people.
Gambling logos appear up to 700 times per game, according to recent research.
But banning them would be “worrying” for the EFL, according to its general manager, Trevor Birch, and could have a “substantial impact” on the finances of the Football League.
Currently, nine of the 20 Premier League clubs have gaming companies as shirt sponsors, while six league teams do so as well. But the EFL’s title sponsorship is with SkyBet and the Football League has many other ties to the gaming industry, which Birch says is worth a total of £ 40million per year.
“We are concerned because funding and sponsorship of the betting industry is an important part of EFL funding,” Birch said. “The figure we would put on it is £ 40million. If this particular avenue is closed to us, it will have a substantial impact on our finances. “
Reports suggest that an outright ban on gambling ads in football would be unlikely and Birch said if the most stringent changes occur, new sponsorship opportunities will always arise.
He argued, however, that the gaming industry should make a financial contribution to football regardless of the changes, given the importance of sport to the business models of most bookmakers.
“Life goes on and if it’s a short-term blow, we have to find an alternative. Who knows what else is in terms of sponsorship that could fill the void? Said Birch. “But it’s also true that the gaming industry makes a lot of money from football. So somehow we think they should make some kind of contribution. This could be in a different form from jersey sponsorship. “