Will Football Make Us Addicted to Gambling?

In the United Kingdom, 78% of kids aged 8 - 16 think sports betting is a normal part of soccer.

By Mark

Main header image

Football is by far the most popular sport in the USA. Take TV for example: according to Sports Media Watch, NBC averaged 23.3 million viewers for its first Sunday Night Football broadcast of the 2022 NFL season - the highest rating average in the US for any program.

And after the 2018 Supreme Court decision to strike down Nevada’s monopoly as the domestic gambling Mecca, sports betting advertising has become harder and harder to escape while watching sports. Betting companies have already begun to recruit stars like Jamie Foxx and Martin Lawrence to entice football fans into wagering. Four years after the Supreme Court overturned the law, 66% of Americans approve of allowing betting on professional sports events. But, will this new wave of confidence in sports betting benefit us Americans? And will this reshape the nation’s most loved sport?

Betting banners

Across the Atlantic, soccer reigns supreme. There’s no escape from soccer in the United Kingdom. Every town, city, and village has a team. It’s a family thing, support for soccer teams is passed down through the generations. And in the UK, betting and soccer go hand-in-hand. Loose regulation and names like Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho participating in gambling promotions that millions of viewers nationwide see have made it so that soccer is almost ubiquitously linked to gambling in the UK. A 2017 study found that during the legendary Premier League highlights show “Match of The Day”, gambling logos or branding appeared on screen for over 70% of the show’s running time. Even the more vanilla faces in soccer, ex-players such as Jermaine Jenas and Peter Crouch, have promoted betting as a fun and joyous experience. On top of this, smartphones and mobile data have made betting accessible anywhere and anytime.

Betting news

Beyond the glitzy adverts and jackpot wins, the blight of gambling in the UK has left a trail of destruction in its wake. But how did things get to this point in the UK? And will we see a similar thing happening Stateside?

How Gambling companies took over football broadcasting in the UK?

The Gambling Act 2005 set out how gambling in Great Britain would be regulated and directly affect the Isles' most prominent sports league, the English Premier League. Many speculated that the amendment was made due to top-flight English club Fulham signing a deal with the Irish betting brand Betfair for the 2002-2003 Premier League season. The deal was inked before the 2005 Act, and companies were permitted to advertise on television and radio, causing outrage from non-football fans. But, it wasn’t until 2014 when the Gambling Licensing and Advertising Act was amended and went into full effect, mandating online betting sites to obtain proper licensing from the UK authorities. The bill amendment would change the betting landscape in the UK. However, these changes to British gambling law didn’t slow the pace of the expansion but accelerated it instead.

Celebrity advertisement 3

The gambling industry has high liquidity, and these companies offer financial support in exchange for their branding to be splattered over the teams’ kits, branding, and, in some cases, stadiums—former Premier League club Stoke City now plays in the Bet365 Stadium. At the start of the 2016/17 season, betting companies took advantage of the Premier League’s decision to introduce shirt sleeve sponsorships, quickly signing deals with various clubs. Going into the 2022/23 Premier League season, 45% of the teams in the top flight have gambling shirt sponsors. None of the top 6 clubs (Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, and Liverpool) has yet conceded to the gambling companies on their tops. But, every club except Man City have some sort of “official” non-shirt betting sponsor, with Manchester United signing a $4.5 annual deal with Chinese betting firm HTH. The 2022/23 season features three new shirt deals with betting operators. One of the biggest clubs outside the top six, Merseyside’s Everton, announced a “club-record deal” with casino and sports betting platform Stake.com. Newly promoted Nottingham Forest is yet to sign a sponsorship deal, meaning 8 of the 20 clubs have betting deals. Sports stars and British household names are offered highly lucrative deals to promote these betting brands. Premier League sponsors have always been a vital source of income for clubs. But, as foreign owners with deep pockets continue to buy up clubs, there has been mounting pressure on smaller teams to procure the necessary funds to compete.

In August 2022, a study into sports betting and consumer protection found that vulnerable populations such as problem gamblers can experience gambling advertising more negatively than other groups. The levels of advertising in soccer can trigger placing wagers and may increase the risk of experiencing gambling harm. In the UK, the situation has become so grave that researchers have recommended that legislators revisit the relationship between football in the UK and the sponsorship it receives from the gambling industry, citing the connection as a public health concern. A study by the BBC in 2017 found that 95% of advert breaks during football coverage featured a betting ad. What’s interesting, and also genuinely concerning about this, is that it isn’t just the football fan seeing these adverts, it’s whoever else is present. Studies have shown that gambling adverts are generally directed at young males but are not exclusive to them. A 2018 study demonstrated the influence advertisements in soccer have on young people: 46% of young UK residents (aged 8-16) were able to name at least one gambling brand, 63% could link a football team to their shirt sponsor, 30% could link 3+ teams and their shirt sponsors, and 78% thought that betting had become a regular part of the sport (86% of adults thought so).

Celebrity advertisement 1

Betting companies have also had a constant outlet for advertisement through the pitch-side perimeter and in-stadia advertising. Consider that there are 380 matches a year, with as many as 14 million recorded daily viewers across significant channels. And that’s just the Premier League. British teams also compete in the Carabao Cup (League Cup), FA Cup, Europa League, Europa Conference League, and the Champions League. A 2020 study examining the frequency and nature of gambling marketing in televised broadcasts found that soccer was only second to boxing in terms of references per minute.

It could be argued that gambling is the cigarettes of our time, marketed freely, and endorsed by celebrities and football stars while reaping the benefits of deregulation. While at the same time, the public experiences the consequences of consumption. As long as politicians live in the pocket of these companies, very little will change. Exposure to cigarette advertisements and movie product placements increased adolescent smoking. What’s to say, a similar thing won’t occur with gambling, causing generational damage?

Gambling firms have become increasingly creative and obscure in attracting new customers; a 2020 Betfair advert showing various cute dog breeds barking while promoting its latest product is a prime example. As long as betting companies are allowed to advertise, marketing teams will work to find new ways to influence the public.

Celebrity advertisement 2

People in the UK have continually voiced their dissatisfaction with the lack of regulatory guidance from the authorities, while the masses suffer as a result. The innovation in gambling has led to the emergence of in-play betting, allowing users to wager on soccer as the game unfolds, offering a host of other betting opportunities to consume. A 2018 study carried out in Spain found that in-play betting has been linked with higher sports-watching involvement and, in turn, increased problems with gambling severity, especially for those most vulnerable hoping to escape from everyday preoccupations.

British citizens seem to be suffering as a direct result of soccer-related gambling. The one example that stands out is the Leicester City fan and father-of-two that took his own life in 2021, having spent thousands of pounds gambling via a mobile betting app. Numerous other examples of men and women losing over £100,000 to sports betting. This has led to multiple campaigns to expose the impact of gambling laws, pressure governments to curb gambling laws, and groups to support the victims of gambling addiction. This is what has been left in the wake of excessive promotions and increasingly easy access to premier league sports betting.

With the NFL season in full flight, it seems fitting to consider how the wave of regulatory changes in sports betting may affect American football and its beloved fans.

The US Sports Gambling Gold Rush

The American Gambling Association estimates that Americans wagered approximately $4.76 billion on Super Bowl LII (January 30, 2018), with $4.6 billion wagered illegally.

Just four months later, in May 2018, the Supreme Court struck down PASPA, allowing states to establish their own state sports gambling laws. Many states had been lobbying for this for some time, and New Jersey was at the forefront, given the substantial economic upside through taxation of sports wagering. Just a month later, Delaware accepted single-game sports wagering. By the end of the year New Jersey, Rhode Island, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania would either start accepting sports bets or vote to allow it.

NFL Superstar

As of today, there are more than two dozen states in the United States that offer legal sports betting. In 2022, Kansas, Maine, and Massachusetts will legalize sports betting. As well as the states of Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Vermont are trying and failing to pass laws to legalize sports betting. Then there is California, which boasts some of the most well-recognized American sports teams on the planet and has been vying for sports betting legalization since 2019. But, with a complicated situation involving tribes and state gambling operators competing against one another on duelling ballot incentives, things won’t be resolved anytime soon. All attempts to legalize gambling in California in the 2022 midterm elections failed. More than 100 million Americans now live in places where they can legally bet on sports.

The staggering rate at which the US sports betting landscape has changed has not gone unnoticed by prominent sports betting organizations. At the 2022 Super Bowl, top-tier NFL partners—Caesars Sportsbook, DraftKings, and Fanduel—rolled out ads before the game and local in-game ads during the 4-hour event. Caesars and DraftKings went one step further, airing national in-game spots as the Rams cruised to victory in February. We also saw other betting companies use big celebrity names like Ben Affleck, Shaq O’Neal, and Jamie Foxx to show their face in ads for other companies, similar to what we see in the UK with footballers and movie stars. These ads are presented alongside the words “bet responsibly,” some advice from the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Super bowl

DraftKings is already looking into in-game wagering to ramp up viewer engagement. The fun and fast-paced nature of sports betting go hand-in-hand with the NFL. Declan Hill, the author of The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime, said that “Sports gambling is the crack cocaine for young males between the ages of 14 and 35.” With the top 4 viewed shows in the US all being football-based—NBC Sunday Night Football, Fox + NFLN Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick, and The OT—and accounting for over 46 million viewers, there should be a real cause for concern.

With an incentive to see gambling flourish from industry stakeholders and bettors, it’s difficult to see how things will slow down. The Louisana State University athletics department sent a letter to fans earlier this year, including students, encouraging them to download Caesar’s mobile betting app. The email read, “Your app is Ready, Louisiana,” providing a link to a promotional code offering a $300 one-time bonus after placing your first $20 bet. This is a form of affiliate marketing and the owner of that link will receive a share of the profit from each person who starts gambling (and losing) after clicking it. In the UK, where sports betting is a part of the culture, victims of sports gambling cited free bets as one of the principal problems.

Having recognized the depth of the problem and the ongoing damage, the UK government has taken action. There is some hope for the Premier League and British sport, as gambling companies will be banned from using advertising featuring top-flight footballers and other sports personalities in an attempt to protect under-18s and other vulnerable groups. At the beginning of the 2023/24 season, no Premiership clubs will be allowed betting shirt sponsors, with a possible blanket ban on sports betting sponsorship across all advertisement channels.

The changes are a step in the right direction and will help quell the effects, but is the damage already done? And, if sports betting is to be banned, what will be its replacement?

In Steps Cryptocurrency

The fast-moving and somewhat mysterious world of cryptocurrency has emerged as a mainstream interest in the last three or four years. Like the gambling industry, it’s highly liquid, offers the chance to hit the jackpot, and changes one’s fortunes overnight. For some, it’s still a reasonably shady affair, and the latest price crash has halted further progress towards adopting any digital currency.

Crypto arena

Although many fans may be unaware, blockchain companies have a considerable presence in the Premier League, with 17 out of 20 clubs agreeing to crypto deals in the last few years. The advent of NFTs and Fan Tokens has helped to fuel interest in sports sponsorships from the most prominent crypto firms. Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, was the principal sponsor of the 2021 African Cup of Nations, the foremost international football competition on the continent. NBA’s LA Lakers and Clippers and NHL’s LA Kings play in Crypto.com Arena.

Crypto presents many of the same problems as we’ve seen with betting. It appeals to the younger generations, it’s fun and interactive, and can result in financial gain. The companies are hungry to attract the public’s attention as the industry becomes increasingly saturated with digital trading exchanges tussling for customer sign-ups. There have already been cases of ex-soccer stars, such as Michael Owen, breaching UK law to satisfy the requests of million-dollar crypto sponsorship deals by promoting NFTs. London’s Arsenal FC, one of the most recognized clubs in England, was also caught for breach of advertising rules by a UK watchdog promoting fan tokens. The early signs do not paint a pretty picture.