Today in the House of Commons, the Football Association (FA) came under sustained criticism over a recent deal which allowed betting companies like Bet365 to show clips from FA Cup matches.
Under the media rights deal, which was agreed in July 2017 between the Football Association and the sporting rights agency, IMG, betting companies could sell on live footage or clips of certain FA Cup matches.
Bet 365 and six other betting firms (Betfair, William Hill, Coral, Ladbrokes, Unibet and Paddy Power) got those rights to use the clips from the start of the 2018/19 season. The deal is thought to be worth approximately £750million.
In the case of Bet 365, the matches are available to anyone who places a bet or puts some money in a deposit 24hrs before matches start. 23 third-round FA Cup matches were available last weekend on Bet 365 and all of them did not start until 15:01GMT on Saturday.
According to Sports Minister Nigel Adams, the FA is looking at all options to restrict the current deal which is due to finish in 2024.
Today, Carolyn Harris MP was granted an Urgent Question in the Commons where she asked the Government to make a statement on the deal.
Following her, MPs from across the House demanded action.
Richard Graham MP: “Does the Minister agree that the FA should return, as soon as possible, to working to reduce the links between football and gambling, and that it should do away with this deal and avoid the proven risks of relentless online marketing, particularly on young men?”
Tracey Brabin MP asked whether there was an update on when the review of the Gambling Act was due to take place: “It feels as though most of the House is united on this issue. The Queen’s Speech made a commitment to review the Gambling Act 2005. Will the Minister update us on when that review will begin?”
Former Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch MP, who quit the previous government over planned delays to the reduction in the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), said the deal between the FA and Bet365 was distasteful: “The deal with Bet365 is distasteful, naive and a long way short of what good governance of sport, especially football, should look like. But it also contradicts previous FA decisions dissociating itself, as the sport’s regulator, from betting companies. Those decisions recognised public concern about gambling in football and dovetailed nicely with the FA’s mental health work. I encourage the Minister not to listen too closely to the FA’s defence on the issue and claims that any renegotiation of the deal will have an impact on grassroots sport. That is something that the FA has regularly claimed in the past, but it is important that it reviews the deal now, to protect people involved in football. Does the Minister agree that that needs to be done urgently if the FA is to regain respect for its previous moral position on the issue of gambling?”
Her comments were echoed by Gavin Newlands of the SNP: “The deal between the English FA and IMG/Bet365—and, indeed, six other bookmakers—is, as the Minister has outlined, to be regretted. It shows the danger of selling media rights to third parties without correct oversight of the process. Gambling addiction is on the rise in the UK, so every gateway to gambling and the problems it creates needs to be scrutinised intensely. Online gambling in particular has experienced a huge increase in activity, with more than one third of the EU’s online betting taking place in the UK. There has been progress through measures to address fixed odds betting terminals in the past year—with the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who asked the previous question, at the heart of that move. Do the Government intend to pursue similar proactive measures before the FA’s next media rights review?”
Damien Collins MP asked whether the government would consider changing the Gambling act to ban the type of sponsorship hat requires fans to set up gambling account just to watch sports: “I believe the deal cheapens the FA cup, and I do not believe we should wait four years for a review. If the FA will not change its mind and act soon, will the Minister consider amending the Gambling Act to ban the type of sponsorship deal that requires sports fans to set up gambling accounts simply to watch sports?”
David Linden MP, pointed out that gambling firms often disproportionately target low-income gamblers: “Let us be honest: betting companies disproportionately target low-income demographics and working-class communities. I see that in my own constituency, with three betting shops lined up next to each other in Baillieston Main Street. The Minister continually says that all sports are involved; can he really put his hand on his heart and say that cricket, for example, would have the same disproportionate targeting and investment as we see with football?”
In response, Sports Minister Nigel Adams said: “The Government are also very angry about this arrangement, especially after a weekend when the FA worthily highlighted its Heads Together mental health campaign. I have spoken at some length to the FA since this broke. The arrangement has been in place for some time; the 2017 contract was a rollover of a deal. The Government have asked the Football Association to look at all avenues to review this element of its broadcasting agreement. This element of the broadcast arrangement is for matches that are not chosen for the FA cup online broadcast or do not kick off at 3 pm on a Saturday, and it does open up the opportunity for plenty of other games to be watched, but we have asked the FA in no uncertain terms to look at the deal and to see what opportunities there are to rescind this particular element. I will be meeting face to face with the FA next week.”
To read the full debate, click here.
Head of Communications, James Mildred said: “Sadly this is all further evidence of the extremely troubling relationship between the world’s most popular game and the gambling industry.
“No wonder the government are angry and that was also expressed by MPs across the house of commons.
“For too long, betting companies have had a free reign to exploit vulnerable, problem gamblers.
“At CARE, we passionately believe in the dignity of every human being and where there is such blatant injustice and exploitation, it should be stopped.
“The review of the 2005 Gambling Act cannot come soon enough, and we hope it paves the way for fundamental change to our current gambling laws so there is more support for those who are taken advantage of by betting firms.”