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STEPHEN ORD (@smord84) gets stuck into the all-too-cosy relationship between gambling and football – and our own beloved Newcastle United…
You may have missed it whilst we were happily scoring nine goals in six days and winning three times, but one of our sponsors has been under investigation. Fun88 presents itself as a gambling group that is attracting people to its site in order to drive income. It claims that its main market is China. Betting is illegal there, and – so the Fun88 argument goes – advertising in the UK (e.g. through Newcastle United) is a ‘safe’ route. The problem is that to be able to advertise gambling in this country you need to get approval from the Gambling Commission and be able to show accounts, safe working practices, and so on.
Fun88 is represented by a group called TGP Europe Limited which has a very small office in Douglas on the Isle of Man. This is a red flag for a lot of people who have looked further into these companies. Philippe Auclair, of The Guardian and other publications, regularly makes the point on the Football Weekly podcast that there are reasons to have concerns about who owns these sites and where the money goes. The problem with a company that wants to represent as Chinese but can’t, so is actually based in another country, but pretends to be run by two people in the Isle of Man, is that it leads to accusations of financial mismanagement.
Last week the Gambling Commission issued a fine covering the last two financial years, that equates to roughly £315,000, to TGP Europe Limited. This was, it said, due to money laundering concerns and social responsibility failures. This didn’t just impact Newcastle United, but also Chelsea, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest.
So what? This was a deal signed by Ashley, whom we all disliked, and was just a way in which he secured more funding for the club, something done very rarely in his tenure, and that has already been ended early by the new ownership. Surely we should all just move on and forget about it, as in the summer it won’t matter?
But it got me considering the place of gambling in football and the money involved. This isn’t just at NUFC, but it does include us because the Premier League is becoming a way of validating companies that have no known ownership, limited scrutiny and – let’s say – hidden practices. If you watch a game on Sky, the most common way in which to watch Premier League football in the UK, you will have every advert break start with a betting advert. Fine – shrugs shoulders – they’re paying the money to fund the TV deals and therefore should be able to have a say in when adverts are on. Yet, if I am at SJP in the East Stand, my only area of temptation for a flutter is a small, poorly advertised booth in the corner of the upper tier. This is targeting non-match going fans. In a lot of houses, this will include children who want to watch the big match of the weekend or their own team.
I can not remember seeing a single betting advert on the TV when I was a child. They might have been there but I can’t remember it. At one count, over a Premier League game at Newcastle this season, there were forty-eight different times during the game where betting services were advertised. We can claim that it’s part of the game, but for the addict who is struggling to stop, watching football must be the ultimate torture. It’s constantly there.
Now when it comes to morals, there will be some who find it ridiculous that a fan of Newcastle United can question the actions of these gambling firms without looking closer to home. However, the point here is that this permeates the game and makes the clubs that do it look a bit seedy. Lots of NUFC fans will follow Fun88 on Twitter for their fan giveaways and for their take on different things concerning the club. By gaining likes and follows it drives their legitimacy. I used to follow them and regularly retweeted for attempts to get extra tickets, but I think we now need to consider the additional reasons the Fun88 deal may have stopped.
Yes, we can possibly broker a better deal but they’ve been on the front of our shirt this season when we’ve been on the telly every week. The reality might be that Staveley, Eales et al have done some digging and aren’t happy being associated with this company or whoever might own it. They might not be happy that Fun88 has acted legally in terms of its practices, or they might not want more eyes on our sponsorship deals at this stage of our reboot.
But maybe the grander step which football should consider is cutting ties with gambling altogether. We were previously told that with tobacco and alcohol it wasn’t possible. Maybe, for the safety of our children and those who struggle with addiction, the time to remove the sponsorship is now.