Gambling on sporting events is a practice almost as old as civilisation itself. Evidence of people betting commodities on an outcome they cannot control has been found throughout history and is part of the human experience. Rudimentary dice were found in the pyramids in Egypt, we know ancient Chinese culture had a heavy emphasis on games of chance and long before all of that, archaeologists have discovered suspected evidence of betting with early man.
And not much has changed.
In 2023, sports betting may be found on your mobile with a variety of options and sportsbooks to choose from, but the principle remains the same: betting on an outcome one can’t possibly know for sure. However, one thing that has changed significantly from Egyptians throwing dice or Chinese gamblers sitting in an ancient kingdom is how the practice is marketed and regulated.
These days, sportsmen and women are part of multinational promotional campaigns that engage with a huge international audience. At all the major sporting events in the world, gambling companies are there to encourage people to have a flutter on the outcome. This year, FanDuel announced that NFL icon and retired right end Rob Gronkowski would take part in a live advertisement during the Super Bowl, which saw him attempt a field goal during half-time.
And it’s that modern trait that is the most enticing for modern players, the appearance of sporting people in commercials. From the aforementioned Gronkowski to football management legend José Mourinho, so many of those that work in sport have now advertised sports betting – which is now drawing the ire of the industry.
THE NETHERLANDS & ADDICTION
In the Netherlands last year, legislation was passed by the Government to prohibit the use of celebrities for gambling companies. The reason for the new legislation is obvious, the Government said: famous faces can’t be used to push people into gambling or – as it justified it when passing the law – influence the youth. This all stems from the concern of addiction, of course – which is a significant issue for many countries trying to find a balance between allowing their citizens to gamble while also protecting them from the hell of being an addict.
Much of why the Netherlands decided to draw people to legalised gambling in the first place was because many were already gambling on illegal sites; so, pushing them to legal sites was a way of keeping a closer eye on an entire industry – as well as earning tax money from it. However, after the country legalised online gambling in 2021, gambling ads flowed forth like at the parting of the Red Sea. Adverts were over-used.
So, the country banned the broad use of celebrities and sportspeople in gambling advertising. The Dutch regulator, Kansspelautoriteit (KSA), which oversees the ban, commented to Gambling Insider exclusively, saying that “providers of games of chance are no longer allowed to use persons who are publicly known (past or present), or with whom consumers wish to identify or associate themselves for any other reason, in advertising for games of chance. Role models include people such as professional athletes, actors, models and influencers, but also politicians and people who otherwise serve as role models in society.”
The move was sharp and swift, following a period where advertisers used extensive marketing with sporting faces to attract players to sports betting platforms in the Netherlands; the golden age ended and regulations forced companies to find new ways of advertising.
Using sportsmen and women in gambling advertisements is a great way of drawing in a crowd, the problem with it is that it also inevitably draws in the youth
UK INTRODUCES BAN
The UK is another place where the advertisement of gambling using sportsmen and women has now been banned. However, the difference between the UK and the Netherlands is that the UK’s gambling market is significantly bigger (despite strong growth in the Netherlands).For years, companies got away with using footballers to push their products to the general public – however, in April 2022, the Committee of Advertising Practice declared no more, banning the use of sports and reality TV stars, as well as anybody under the age of 25, in gambling advertisements.
The ban came into effect later that October and meant marketing executives had to think even harder about how to get their message across the screen. Much like the Netherlands, the UK Government said it implemented the law to protect those under the age of 18. The new legislation was embraced by the Gambling Commission, with a spokesperson exclusively commenting to Gambling Insider: “We welcomed the introduction of the Committee of Advertising Practice’s (CAP) tougher rules which prevent gambling ads from being of strong appeal to under 18s. We work very closely with the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) and if gambling firms break those rules, we can take tough action, including fining the offending firm.”
In 2019, footballer manager José Mourinho appeared in an advert for Paddy Power, where he humorously petted a dog and once again, as he had when he first became Chelsea manager in 2003, proclaimed himself ‘the special one.’ Under the regulations in 2019,Mourinho was allowed to feature in the campaign, which caused a stir in some quarters.
At the time, Matt Gaskell, clinical lead for NHS Northern Gambling Services with clinics in Leeds, Manchester and Sunderland, said footballers and managers should be banned from such campaigns: “We need to divorce gambling from sports and from football.”
After Mourinho appeared in the campaign, his ad appeared to trigger a wave of concerns from responsible gambling organisations. Two years later, the UK’s ban came into effect. Due to the sheer size and value of the UK market, a ban on sporting personnel has a significantly bigger impact than it does in the Netherlands. However, there are still ways to get around the ban – S markets demonstrated this recently by using former Manchester United defender Gary Pallister in its campaign for its sportsbook, SBK.
By using a player that retired two decades ago, Smarkets are no longer subject to the terms of the ban – as Pallister has very little following amongst the youth.
THE BALANCING ACT
Using sportsmen and women in gambling advertisements is a great way of drawing in a crowd, the problem with it is that it also inevitably draws in the youth. The immortality of youth has led everybody to make stupid decisions at times, and when gambling is involved, the hedonistic lifestyle of young people in general may play a role in not knowing when to stop.
It is this very feeling that the regulators are trying to protect young people from, and when many see their favourite football players advertising a gambling brand, it is highly likely to lead to a rise in younger people placing wagers. Of course, this needs to be balanced with the fact that gambling companies have a right to operate as businesses and pick people each will feel will represent their brands – which, 99% of the time, will be sportsmen and women.
The balance, then, is very fine, too much one way and you have the state telling businesses what they can and can’t do on a micro-management level, who can and can’t be involved in the advertising of gambling. However, too much the other way and you could potentially end up with a problem gambling epidemic amont an age group that would cost vast sums to try and bring back in line. It seems, then, the old adage is true: ‘Too much of a good thing...’