I bet you that Sunderland go up as champions. I don’t know they will, but I bet they do. Where’s the harm in that? A simple bet between friends. Well that largely depends on the stake and of course affordability. If you knew for example that a £20 bet would merely leave me with a little less champagne to drink on a Tuesday lunchtime then you might be inclined to take me up on the bet; provided of course you were amply stocked for champagne yourself. If on the other hand you knew that my children might have to eat spaghetti hoops on toast instead of mince and dumplings perhaps you would think twice. I’d like to think you would. The truth is that if you yourself were addicted to gambling you probably wouldn’t. Even if that £20 was needed to pay off mortgage arrears and keep a roof over your head.
For addicts the lure is omnipresent. If you go to pick up a loaf of bread down the high street you will probably be triggered by a few bookies sitting next to the bakers. This is even more likely if you live in a less affluent area. Bookmakers sell a ticket out of hard times, why would they pitch camp between a vegan cafe and a designer boutique? What bookmakers know, you see, is how to trigger addicts. They know where their market lies. They know where those hooked on gambling lie and they know where the next generation of addicts are coming from.
Take your average match on Sky Sports for instance. The first half is close. A goal a piece. There are fine margins between the two teams and the referee blows his half time whistle. We return to the studio briefly for the anchor-man to sum up before an advert break. During the advert break Ray Winstone comes on. He tells you what the odds are for a given next scorer or a given final result. Now I am not one for a nanny state, if anything I’m a bit of an anarchist, but that moment where Ray comes on being a geezer is a trigger. Where people were not going to place a bet before, they now are. It’s ok though they tell you to stop when the fun stops. The fun.
Is that when you have debt collectors at the door or your house is repossessed? Or is it before that? Is it when you think your daft £1 22 match accumulator doesn’t come in or is it when your £50 first scorer and correct result doesn’t? People are entitled to have a bet. I actually believe that it’s great to have a dream and I would be a hypocrite if I told you I didn’t have my lottery winnings already spent. What I have a bit of an issue with is the way it has seeped into normal existence. When I was first going to Sunderland matches it was normal for me to go to the pub with my dad. That continued through to my adult life and now I can’t really appreciate the match without at least a pint. “It’s part of the day”. We had Vaux on our shirts, away days started with the first hiss of a can at 6am (no cans allowed on ALS buses). Alcohol was part of the matchday experience. The authorities saw the risks. Not from a healthy perspective but from a law and order perspective which is why derby games kicked off before the pubs opened, unless you knew a bloke who knew the landlord.
Gambling of course does not affect behaviour as starkly as drinking. It’s not as if a problem gambler will hide betting slips in the way an alcoholic will hide bottles. It’s not like a gambler will have to fight those urges every time he or she sees an advert for a betting company in the same way that the a club sponsored by a beer company triggers an alcoholic. It’s not like there are odds waved in a gambling addict’s face the way they have to smell the beer in the stadium. It’s not even like it’s that freely available to have a bet anyway, alcoholics can just stand in the queue for the bar right?
Here’s the boring statistical bit, it’s scary but factual. Eight of the 20 premier league teams carry a betting sponsor on their shirts. At those games involving those teams there is an instant trigger for every addict in the crowd. The only reason the figure is not higher is because the betting companies can’t really compete with huge multinationals and oil rich owners for sponsorship rights. Drop down to the championship and things get even scarier. 17 out of 24 clubs carry a betting sponsor on their shirts. That is over 70%. Now you could argue that is fair game and if the company is prepared to pay that then so be it. It brings money into the club after all. However, recent reports from the gambling commission have shown that 450,000 children aged 11-16 gamble regularly. That is higher than those who smoke or drink.
Luton Town recently turned down £500,000 from gambling companies because they did not feel comfortable with it. I can see why. It’s time for all football clubs to make a bit of a stand on this. Problem gambling rips families apart and ruins lives. For the sake of sponsorship the clubs of the communities owe it to their fans to say no to sponsorship.