One of the biggest betting operators in the UK has become the first to make public the extent to which its business relies on high-risk customers.
Figures from the Kindred Group show that around 4% of its revenue comes from customers who are showing signs of harmful betting.
The group, which owns nine brands, including 32Red and Unibet, has revealed the figures at a time when the UK government is considering a range of measures including restricting or banning bookmakers from being involved in sports sponsorship.
Kindred currently sponsors the shirts of football clubs Middlesbrough, Preston North End and Derby County in the English Championship, as well as Scottish club Rangers. They say that they aim to reduce the percentage of their profits that is derived from high risk gamblers to zero by 2023, but also argue that curbs on sports advertising would be a negative step.
According to Neil Banbury, the UK General Manager at Kindred, this is a key moment in the debate on the relationship between sports and gambling. With 75% of Premier League clubs and 87% of Championship clubs currently relying on betting sponsors, Banbury admits that there was a lot of gambling advertising within the sport. But he emphasised that the involvement of gambling companies played an important role in supporting football:
“Removing the ability for us to work with the football industry completely would be a really negative step. It won’t have any significant impact in tackling problem gambling. Our involvement in football provides the clubs with finances at a really tough time, certainly outside the Premier League, and gives us a good opportunity to have an impact on various issues.”
The issue of gambling sponsorship in sport is currently being investigated as part of the government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act, with the window for evidence closing next month. Figures suggest that teams in the top two divisions could lose a total of £110m a year if a gambling sponsorship ban were brought in. Other sports, such as darts, snooker and boxing also have gambling links.
Last week, the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that the government was aware of the potential impact on finances in the English Football League and that they were focused on taking an evidence-based approach to the issue.
According to the UK Gambling Commission, there are 340,000 problem gamblers in the UK. Many charities and politicians, including an influential House of Lords group, have called for a ban on football advertising. Under pressure, the industry has already introduced a whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling advertising on live sport. But more reforms seem almost certain to be introduced this year.