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Is football betting becoming too normalised in the UK?

Around 700 gambling ads are visible in every Premier League match and live odds are constantly touted online. Here’s why banning front-shirt sponsors for bookies isn’t sufficient. 

Football has become synonymous with gambling in the UK, and that is indubitably a problem. 

As someone obsessed with the beautiful game, my mind is usually preoccupied with the sporting permutations of each weekend; who is looking likely for a title run, who’s in contention for a top four finish, and who’s likely to be relegated?

For many UK enthusiasts, however, the main draw of football action is provided by an opportunity to earn some extracurricular cash through betting – and a legion of bookies are constantly vying for their attention. 

Over the course of a 90-minute game, you’ll see around 700 gambling adverts. That’s about six every minute. Their messages are constantly flooding our subconscious minds through hoardings, television adverts, broadcast set adornments, and even shirt sponsors.

In the case of the latter, betting sponsorship is to be axed for the 2025/26 season on the front of shirts but will still be allowed on shirt sleeves. This feels like something of a sideways step when you look at public data on the government website. 

An estimated 1.44m people are said to be addicted to gambling in the UK and hundreds of suicides have been attributed to its influence. When kicking back to enjoy the weekend’s fixture list, however, many of the industry’s most influential brands are presented to us as harmless household names. 

The entire second tier of English football (The Championship) is partnered by Sky Bet, pre-match and half-time intervals are given to Bet365 to show live odds on its app, and our favourite pundits even pop-up in cheerful, skit-like adverts further affirming the idea that gambling is part of the match-day experience and wider football culture. 

It was only yesterday during an episode of satirical US comedy Ted Lasso that I first noticed West Ham’s main shirt sponsor is Betway, a firm sanctioned only last year for putting marketing material on the children’s section of the official club website.

Premier League football may be on the cusp of a reckoning soon, with rumours of a third-party regulator being instated to oversee human rights adherence, but specific reform to protect children and recovering addicts from the dangers of gambling doesn’t appear to be forthcoming. 

An overhaul to the 2005 Gambling Act has been proposed in a recent white paper, but three years of supposed reviews have yet to materialise in any immediate restrictions to advertising or sponsorship within English football. 

With the upcoming shirt-sponsor ban, there is at least explicit acknowledgment that gambling imagery isn’t healthy for the sport’s PR. If we’re to ensure the next generation of football fans are safe, though, increased pressure is needed to ensure this is just the start.

Update (26/05): Premier League striker Ivan Toney (of Brentford FC) has been charged for over 100 betting offences and will miss eight months of professional football.