Gambling firms behind more than £30m in football shirt sponsorship deals have been accused of making “insulting” contributions to the industry-funded addiction charity, with one giving just £250.
An annual list of donors to GambleAware, which is funded by online casinos and bookmakers, details how much individual firms have given.
The data reveals an increase in contributions from the largest companies – in line with a promise made in 2019 – but far smaller sums from others, particularly operators that offer overseas firms access to the UK via the controversial “white label” system.
Philippines-based W88 sponsors Crystal Palace’s shirts thanks to a white label tie-up with Dorset-based Midnight Gaming, which donated £250 to help fund Britain’s stretched treatment services.
The sum is less than GambleAware received from charities such as hospices and the Red Cross, which donate if they hold raffles to raise funds.
Isle of Man-based TGP Europe, which gave £5,000, is another white label operator, providing a route into the UK for SBOTOP, Sportsbet.io and Fun88, which sponsor Leeds United, Southampton and Newcastle United shirts respectively.
Vivaro, from Malta, which helps ManBetX and LoveBet sponsor Wolverhampton Wanderers and Burnley, gave £10,000. Asian BGE, licence holder for Celtic’s Philippines-owned sponsor Dafabet, gave £2,000.
Each deal is worth more than £5m a year, according to multiple reports. None of the firms returned a request for comment.
The sponsors are overseas brands that gain access to English and Scottish football via “white label” companies.
These firms are often based in territories such as the Isle of Man or Malta but hold British gambling licences, allowing them to rent their services to overseas companies, often from countries where betting advertising is illegal.
Those brands can then advertise on football shirts, usually with the aim of reaching viewers in markets such as China.
James Grimes, whose organisation the Big Step urges football clubs to cut ties with gambling, said: “The amounts these companies have donated to deal with the harm they have caused is insulting to the millions of people harmed by gambling in the UK, some of whom will be fans of the clubs that they sponsor.
“It is yet more evidence that the industry shouldn’t be afforded the privilege of sponsoring football clubs, nor decide how much they donate to fund research, education and treatment.”
GambleAware is the main conduit for industry donations under the existing donation scheme, a voluntary system that stems from a longstanding gentleman’s agreement between the industry and government.
Firms must donate to gambling addiction services as a condition of holding a licence. Typically, they give at least 0.1% of their annual revenue to GambleAware, although there is a list of other approved recipients.
The national mental health director for NHS England, Claire Murdoch, told the Guardian earlier this month that the system leads to insufficient funding, leaving the NHS to pick up the pieces.
Murdoch, GambleAware and the industry regulator, the Gambling Commission, have called for a mandatory levy instead, something the government has resisted.
Scottish National party MP Ronnie Cowan said the small sums paid by firms benefiting from lucrative football sponsorship deals bolstered the case.
“The gambling industry has diverted scrutiny and criticism of itself for years by trumpeting the claim that it funds support for gambling harm,” he said.
“We need a statutory levy that raises substantial amounts of money and is allocated independently of the industry. The industry that is responsible for the damage cannot be independently responsible for the financing of the education, rehabilitation and support that is increasingly required.”
The four largest operators – Ladbrokes-owner Entain, William Hill, Paddy Power-owner Flutter and Bet365, have sought to head off such calls by increasing their contribution, boosting this year’s total industry contribution from £10m to £19m.