You may remember a recent opinion piece in the ‘Telegraph’ newspaper by William Hill. In it, Hill lambasted the “casual approach to sports betting” that he said was threatening the integrity of the Premier League. He called on football fans to stop placing bets on their favorite teams because the outcome was uncertain, suggesting that a pointspread may be more advantageous for bettors. His piece went viral, with over a million views on social media alone, and he’s been invited to speak at several prestigious events including a seminar at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Aids (RoSPA), as well as a special panel at the World Health Summit in London in May. Less than a week after the article’s publication, the ‘Telegraph’ published a follow-up piece by the journalist who wrote the original piece, Sean Cunningham. The sub-headline stated, “Letting Loose And Calling Out Big Club Chief Executives On Bets They Probably Despised.” The piece was a response to Hill’s claims that big clubs were “milking” the system by fixing matches and that the Premier League was “rotten to the core.”
As the creator of the original William Hill article, let’s take a closer look at Cunningham’s rebuttal. In it, he disputes the claims made in the original piece that the English football league was “fixed” and “corrupted” by suggesting that many of the clubs are simply trying to protect their investments in players’ skills and reputations by taking a more cautious approach to sports betting. We’ll begin by looking at the argument that the integrity of English football is less at risk because most fans don’t take betting on sporting events seriously.
Most Fans Don’t Take Sports Betting Seriously
While there’s no denying that some fans enjoy gambling, participation in sports betting is largely confined to a niche audience. In the U.S., for example, 14% of the population regularly participate in sports betting, compared to the 2% of the U.K. population who regularly participate in sports betting. This is in part due to the way sports betting has been portrayed in the media. Since the 1800s, books like the ‘Grand Tour’ have romanticized the genre, portraying it as a “gentle pastime” that provides entertainment for the masses. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with having fun, sports betting is a serious business that has evolved over the years to serve a specific function in the sports industry. In the U.S., sports betting is officially recognized as a form of legal gambling, which means that taxes are paid on winnings. In the U.K., however, sports betting is outlawed except where specifically permitted, and many big clubs are wary of welcoming a new form of competition that could potentially damage their earnings.
The Legal And Regulatory Landscape For Sports Betting
In many countries, including the U.S., sports betting is considered to be a form of recreational gambling, which is why the practice is tolerated but not promoted. In the U.S., the Wire Act of 1953 established regulations governing sports wagering, prohibiting the transmission of sports betting information across state lines. Since then, the U.S. Justice Department has pursued and prosecuted numerous cases of illegal gambling, resulting in heavy penalties for those caught.
The U.K. is classified as a “limited jurisdiction” by the Gaming and Betting Association (UK), which means that it has limited powers to tax and regulate gambling. The Association also claims that “[t]here is no specific data on the prevalence of sports betting in the U.K., but it is generally accepted that there is an informal, under-the-counter segment of the market that operates quietly, outside the law, and largely unregulated.”
Why Are English Clubs Afraid Of The Damage That This Type Of Betting Could Do To Their Revenues?
The argument that some “big clubs” are trying to suppress the rise of legal sports betting is somewhat ironic, given that they benefit from the practice itself. After all, it was once the case that big clubs could care less about how anyone bets as long as they get their share of the action. There’s certainly no denying that revenue from this type of betting could hurt a club’s bottom line if it continues to rise at the rate it is currently doing.
It’s important to remember that English Premier League clubs are businesses first and foremost, and as such, they want to protect their investment in players’ skills and reputations from the risk of injury in uncertain situations. It’s also worth noting that some of the biggest clubs in the world, like Paris Saint-Germain, have publicly stated their opposition to legalizing sports betting in France (where they play), suggesting that this is a global phenomenon. In 2015, German football’s governing body, the DFB, passed a resolution calling for an end to sports betting in amateur and professional soccer. The same goes for FIBA, the International Basketball Federation. Basically, the more that countries attempt to legalize sports betting, the more that professional sports will resist the trend. It makes sense from a business standpoint. Why should they welcome a new form of competition that could potentially damage their earnings? This is a sentiment that Bill Hill himself seemed to echo in his comments to the Telegraph, saying, “If you go into administration, the clubs will take a bit of a hit, but the fans will be angry.” He also claimed that, “Clubs will try to protect their top stars. They don’t want to see them damaged by gambling.”
One of the primary arguments from William Hill and Sean Cunningham in defense of the English game is that professional sports have evolved with gambling in mind. In the U.S., for example, the creation of the Nevada Gaming Control Board in 1907 was seen as a way of legalizing sports gambling. The agency was established to handle the taxation and regulation of sports wagering in Nevada, with the first state statute going into effect in 1931. Even though there’s still plenty of room for growth, especially in comparison to other countries, the argument is made that, in theory, legalizing sports betting in the U.S. would not be catastrophic for the game there. This is in large part thanks to the efforts of groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which waged a 40-year battle against legalized sports betting in the U.S. The group finally saw some of its efforts pay off when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of sports betting in May 2019. However, given the current climate in America, particularly in the NFL, it’s hard to tell how prepared the league is for an increased audience of sports bettors.
Why Are Some Leagues More Suitable For Sports Betting Than Others?
It’s important to note that not all leagues are created equal when it comes to sports betting. Certain sports leagues, like the MLB, are completely unsuitable for this type of wagering due to their fixed results. In the NBA, for example, games are typically seen as “mutually beneficial” arrangements between the league and teams, with the league seeing a drop in gate receipts followed by an increase in television revenue as interest in the sport waxes and wanes throughout the year. The same goes for the NHL and the Italian Serie A, where games are often fixed. For these leagues, betting is heavily discouraged, if not outright banned. The same goes for the NFL, where fans are generally aware of and accept the fact that matches are “rigged” in some way by teams and clubs to benefit themselves financially. While it’s unlikely that the ‘Telegraph’s’ opinion pieces will convince many football fans around the world to start betting on their team, the publication’s pieces may force the issue of match fixing more widely. After all, when it comes to the integrity of sports, the media has a powerful platform that can potentially reach a large audience, and create change where it matters. As we’ve seen time and time again, when it comes to the issue of race and equality in sport, the media can have a powerful effect. It’s up to us to use this platform to the fullest in the fight for equality in sport, and to continue educating society at large about the issue of gambling and match fixing in football (and other sports).