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EPL criticized for ‘incoherent’ plan to restrict gambling ads

Declan Rice, West Ham United, pictured with Betway on his jersey

Anti-gambling campaigners in Britain have criticized a proposal by Premier League clubs to forfeit gambling sponsors on team shirts, saying the measures would do nothing for more problematic advertising like pitchside hoardings.

EPL clubs are close to agreeing on a proposal to remove betting ads from the front of their shirts, restricting such sponsorship logos to the shirt sleeves. The measure aims to stop the government from banning EPL gambling agreements outrightly in the fast-approaching white paper in response to concerns about gambling visibility to underaged football fans.

The white paper contains a series of broader gambling reforms and is expected to be released later this month. The English top-flight teams will likely carry out a vote on the issue before June.

While the current plan to limit gambling ads on the football field will remove them from the front of jerseys, it will not affect the more prominent issue of pitchside hoardings. These are prominent gambling ads and logos displayed on LED screens during football games.

Big Step founder and recovering gambling addict James Grimes stated that while the prohibition of gambling ads on shirts was a welcome move, that alone would do little to address the broader issue.

“Action on shirt sponsorship is a welcome and iconic acceptance of the harm caused by gambling ads but in isolation is incoherent and loses impact,” Grimes said.

“For every advert on a shirt, there are hundreds more flashing around the pitch – each one is a threat to my recovery from addiction.”

A more recent inquiry conducted by University of Stirling academics over five games found that when displayed on the screens, logos for betting brands were 500 times more obvious than shirt sponsorships in an average match.

The university referenced over 31 different gambling operators in its study, and Betway, West Ham’s betting sponsor, appeared more than most.

A major research fellow in the institution, Dr. Richard Purves, opined that dropping the short sponsors would not have the intended effect on gambling exposure.

“If you watch the match, what is most visible? It’s not the shirts unless you get closeups. It’s the pitchside hoardings and the ads you see at half-time,” Purves said.

“The whole point of sponsorship is to saturate fans with images of a company so that it’s fixed in their mind and associated with that team or occasion. Voluntary measures [to drop shirt sponsors] might satisfy people, but it doesn’t deal with the exposure, especially to young people.”

Downing Street signed off on draft proposals for gambling reform last week, setting late April as the date for the white paper. Some potential reforms in the proposal include a compulsory tax on betting companies to sponsor education, research, and treatment; affordability checks on gamblers; and limiting online casino and poker machine stakes.

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