The United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) is proving its worth recently. The regulatory body has been out in force, handing fines and warnings out to companies. And the latest to feel the force of its power is Betway. The betting company is the sponsor of Premier League team West Ham United. It is due to the company being present on the football club’s website that it has incurred the penalty. BBC Sport discovered the problem via the kids’ section of the Hammers’ website. And this has led to the UKGC fining Betway £400,000.
This marks another in a series of hefty fines handed out to gambling companies. It was only in August that the regulatory body hit Entain with a record £17 million penalty. That came about due to social responsibility and anti-money laundering failures. And while Betway’s fine isn’t anywhere near that, it still stands as a blow for the brand. Especially considering that its fine comes in relation to promoting gambling to youths. But West Ham was not the only Premier League team linked to such activity, either.
The Offending Link On The West Ham Website
It was in 2021 that BBC Sport came across a link on the Hammers’ site. This took anyone clicking on it to a ‘colouring in’ page. On that page was an image of a teddy bear wearing the West Ham kit. That kit features the Betway logo across it, which breaches advertising standards. Investigations uncovered that Betway’s link was present elsewhere. This included on the ‘Young Hammers at Home’ section of the site. That serves as the area for children to visit and entertain themselves at the West Ham website.
Both those advertisements breach the rules set up by the Commission on advertising. All commercials and advertisements on gambling must cater to social responsibility. Marketing on childrens’ sections of websites goes against those rules. Thus, Betway had a fine of £408,915 handed out to it by the UKGC.
It may be quite surprising to realise that West Ham was one of seven clubs with such links, though. Four of those were Premier League sides, including Arsenal, Tottenham and Aston Villa. The remaining three were Championship teams Millwall, Reading and Queens Park Rangers. As of the moment, the Commission has not confirmed any action on those clubs or gambling sponsors.
Since the investigation took place, the Hammers’ website has gone through an update. It no longer incorporates those links in the relevant areas. Speaking on the fine, Leanne Oxley, Director of Enforcement for the Commission said:
“Protecting children from gambling harm is at the heart of what we do”.
She went on to state that there was no evidence to say that Betway was trying to target children. Nor was there any suggestion that children had been able to gamble as a result. Yet any breach of the official rules is taken “extremely seriously”.
The Commission said that it is aware of the actions taken by Betway since then. But it advises its licensees to learn from the case and ensure they follow correct processes. This should ensure “websites directed at children do not include advertisements for gambling”.
Action Taken Campaigners Have Had Enough
The likelihood is that Betway and West Ham had no intention of advertising gambling to children. It is a simple mistake made by both, although Betway is the responsible party. And even though the issue is now rectified, some campaigners aren’t happy. One of those is James Grimes of The Big Step group.
“This is one of the worst examples of gambling advertising in football and so action is welcome but fines are not enough and not a deterrent – this won’t be the last time a gambling company advertises their products in front of children”,
“By continuing to promote gambling across football, clubs are risking the health and lives of their own young fans – the stakes really are too high”.
Grimes went on to state that situations like this will only disappear with one action. And that action is to ban all gambling sponsorship of football. The campaign group has been pushing for this to become official law for some time. Such a rule is one of the introductions rumoured to be in the gambling review. But many delays in the publication of the white paper on this have occurred.
And this has led to Premier League clubs being able to strike up new sponsorship deals. Three top English teams have entered into or renewed such partnerships. Fulham, Bournemouth and Everton are the guilty clubs in this. Deals with W88, Dafabet and Stake.com respectively, have been agreed upon.
Betway commented on the issue surrounding its breach of advertising standards. It stated that a technical error had meant that its logo appeared on the kids’ section of the site.
“As soon as we were made aware of this error, we took immediate action to get it removed”,
said the statement. The company accepted the penalty from the UKGC. It also said it would continue to work with West Ham to ensure a repeat incident doesn’t occur.
Yet it seems as though Betway is a repeat offender when it comes to Commission fines. In March of 2020, it received a penalty of £11.6 million for accepting stolen money. Many labelled the Commission as weak for not revoking Betway’s UK licence at the time. Especially considering the fine was a record figure in 2020, too.
Betway was guilty of allowing £5.8 million in laundered funds to flow through its business. Only one month after this, the colouring in marketing appeared on the Hammers’ site. That material remained on the site until BBC Sport discovered it one year later.
And despite receiving another fine, Betway still retains its UK licence. It’s another blow for campaigners who have been waiting for the white paper on gambling reform. Those reforms came to a halt for an indefinite time during the Tory leadership contest. Rumours have abounded since Liz Truss’ appointment that she is to scrap the reform. This is all a part of the anti-regulation stance of her government.