Is it time for football to double down on its gambling problem?

Is it time for football to double down on its gambling problem?

For a sport known as The Beautiful Game – football really does have a few ugly sides to it. Racism. Misogyny. Homophobia. Corruption. However, there’s another growing elephant in the room that still isn’t given the spotlight it deserves. 

Aside from the forced disclaimers at the end of every celebrity endorsed advert, or the small print which is clearly meant to be positioned as an afterthought at best. Are betting companies really doing enough to educate us on the risks with gambling? Of course not.

Why would they either? In 2021, the UK’s online betting market – which is the largest in the world – generated an eye watering £12.6 billion in revenue. From the National Lottery, to a wide range of bespoke sporting accumulators. You can place a bet on virtually anything. Seriously. 

But how much longer can the industry keep gambling with our health?

Honing in on hypocrisy

The debate has recently intensified with the news that England international Ivan Toney was charged by the FA after being found guilty of 262 betting offences. Let’s take a look at the bigger picture for a second though. On the surface, footballers being prohibited from gambling makes perfect sense. They’re privy to things such as transfer news and team selection that could easily harm the integrity of the game should they be allowed to bet on and share such information. 

However, here’s where the hypocrisy comes into play. Sticking with Ivan Toney for a second, let’s look at a few ironic coincidences. Toney himself boasts the record for the most goals scored in a single season in English football’s second tier, The Championship. A league sponsored by who? That’s right, Sky Bet. He’s Brentford’s talisman as well, contributing to over 44% of their goals in the Premier League this season. And who are Brentford’s shirt sponsors? Of course, Hollywood Bets. 

It’d almost be funny if it wasn’t true. We don’t know the full ins and outs of Toney’s case just yet. But you have to admit the double-standards are bemusing. Players from almost half of the team’s in England’s top flight division are quite literally promoting gambling week in, week out on their shirts. Yet they can’t place a bet themselves. 

Personally, I’m all for football’s decision-makers protecting the integrity of the game by putting these measures in place. Just not selectively. What sense does it actually make to punish players for succumbing to an environment that the governing bodies themselves help to perpetuate? Very little I’d say.  

Dangerous path

Thrill-seeking is a part of human nature. Whether we’re eating food we like, taking recreational drugs, or having sex – we’re motivated to take part in such activities because they give us a release of dopamine. Gambling is much the same. 

The industry plays on this relentlessly. Although gambling itself is not a substance, it can easily become a physiological addiction like any other form of substance abuse if it gets out of control. Here are some stats to digest: 86% of betting revenue in Britain comes from the 5% that are classed as addicts. And in the UK alone, there are over 400 gambling related suicides every year. Sobering, isn’t it? 

We’ve undoubtedly reached a point where the betting industry is too lucrative to be completely eradicated. But it’s time we put some serious measures in place. That doesn’t mean whimsically asking Premier League clubs to voluntarily place a betting sponsor ban on themselves. Nor does it mean throwing the book at high profile figures who are struggling to overcome an addiction and hoping the problem goes away. 

It means giving the gambling addiction the same care and attention you would to any other form of physiological dependency. The proof is in the pudding though. When it comes to trusting big corporations to put people before profit – the odds never look that favourable. 

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