Is Gambling Sponsorship in Irish sport slowly coming to an end?

By Damien Dunne

Damien Dunne looks at gambling sponsorship in sport, and talks to expert Barry Grant about the problems that can arise from it.

Image: Pexels

Gambling sponsorship is present across many Irish sports, but is mainly found in both soccer and horse racing.

The GAA voted in 2018 to ban gambling sponsorship at all levels of the sport. The same can’t be said about the FAI, as the football body continues to allow League of Ireland teams to be sponsored by betting companies. 

In terms of the national football team, FAI CEO Jonathon Hill said earlier this year that talks between a major betting company and the FAI were advancing, but the board eventually decided “that wasn’t something they wanted to pursue”.

At Irish club level, League of Ireland champions Shamrock Rovers battled their way to the title this season with a betting company as their main shirt sponsor. Horse racing is another sport that heavily relies on gambling sponsorship.

Experts say that betting sponsorship in sport can cause younger fans to become familiar with the activity, without knowing its addictive nature.

Barry Grant, Project Manager at Extern Problem Gambling told that “research from Australia, found that 75% of children, aged 8-16, could name at least one gambling brand, with 25% being able to name four or more.  The same children are not warned about the potential risks associated with gambling and problem gambling,” 

Extern Problem gambling is an independent organisation that provides text/phone/email support, online counselling, and harm-prevention workshops to those affected by problem gambling.

Grant added that his view would be “to end gambling sponsorship in sport.  Sponsorship of healthy sporting activities, by companies which produce over-18s, addictive products, serves to normalise and sanitise gambling in the minds of children.  This is our primary concern with this issue”.  

According to The Southern Star in 2018, Irish customers produced €1.1 billion in gambling revenues for the year. Of the total, €315 million came from land-based casinos, whereas €310 million was as a result of betting on lotteries, with the rest coming from betting machines. Ireland is seen as a very lucrative market by betting companies, so it’s no surprise why they choose to sponsor our sporting event and teams, for which many Irish people have a great love and interest in.

Progress in other European nations has already taken place. Spain has banned betting sponsorship in sport, which came into effect at the start of this current season. Last season, 35% of Spanish top flight teams had a betting company as their main sponsor. The English government is also said to be considering a ban on such partnerships from 2023, with many Premier League and Championship teams’ primary sponsors coming from the betting industry.

In recent times, legislation has been published by the Irish Government that aims to tackle problem gambling by banning things such as credit card betting and free bets.

Included in the new legislation is a ban on ‘whistle-to-whistle’ TV advertising, which means that betting sponsors are not allowed to appear from five minutes before the sporting event is aired, to five minutes after. Pitch side displays and half-time adverts will also no longer be permitted. Horse racing and greyhound racing have been excluded from the legislation.

The legislation means that Paddy Power’s sponsorship of RTÉ’s coverage of the Irish national football team will end, and this is likely the beginning of tougher measures to come over the next number of years as the government aims to clamp down on betting sponsorship in sport.

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