Liverpool Football Club have been warned by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) that they face potential fines should they choose to retain their partnership with controversial Russian betting agency 1xBet.
1xBet, the official betting partner of Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur football clubs, have withdrawn their operation from the United Kingdom following a string of complaints that included promoting wagering on children’s sports, running books on, and the live streaming of, cockfights plus hosting a ‘Pornhub’ casino. They were also reported to have advertised on close to 4,000 websites with illegal content.
Now, the gambling regulator has fired a warning shot at the three elite Premier League teams, who finished second, third and fourth last season, that they risk prosecution unless they cut all ties with the Russian outfit. To that end, Tottenham, whose star striker Harry Kane had also been used publicly to promote 1xBet, have terminated their agreement with the betting firm, four weeks after concerns over the betting company’s practices first came to light. Chelsea on the other hand, say they are monitoring the situation.
Liverpool FC Yet To Cut Ties
Liverpool, though, have yet to cut ties with 1xBet despite the brand being removed from the official list of club sponsors on their website and social media feeds. And, unless they act soon, the European champions risk unlimited fines and up to 51 weeks’ imprisonment for those responsible.
The Gambling Commission stated;
“We recently wrote to Liverpool FC, Chelsea FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC to remind them that organisations engaging in sponsorship, and associated advertising arrangements, with an unlicensed operator may be liable to prosecution for the offence of advertising unlawful gambling.”
The Reds, whose deal with BetVictor expired at the end of last season, only announced their deal with 1xBet two months ago. It was agreed that their new global betting partner would benefit from in-stadium branding and promotion on social media. At the time, Liverpool’s chief operating officer Billy Hogan declared himself and the club “delighted” with the deal adding “I know that their games and special offers will appeal to our fans around the world.”
Overseas Marketing Partners
At present, Liverpool have so far declined to comment on the situation but a statement made public by 1xBet, who blamed overseas marketing partners for advertising on piracy websites, outlined the following;
“We take very seriously the allegation that 1xBet’s brand has been promoted on prohibited sites, which is strictly against our policies, and we have launched an investigation. Pending the outcome, we believe it is responsible to temporarily suspend our advertising activity in the UK.”
The news is another betting related story for Liverpool. Last July, former striker Daniel Sturridge was banned from football for two weeks and fined £75,000 for breaking strict betting rules laid out by the Football Association.
The ex-Chelsea and Manchester City forward, who has since singed for Turkish side Trabzonspor, had eleven charges brought against him to an independent commission, nine of which were dismissed. The two charges that stood allege that Sturridge had advised his brother to bet on a proposed transfer to Spanish La Liga outfit Sevilla which, incidentally, never materialised.
ComeOn casino and sportsbook is another gaming platform to shut down operations in the UK, although under more voluntary circumstances than those concerning 1xBet. The Cherry-owned casino has been operating in the UK since 2014 but has now taken the decision to withdraw from the British market in order to concentrate on what it describes as more favourable markets. These are thought to include Sweden, Denmark, Malta, Poland and Germany, where it holds licences.
While the UK market reacts to newly enforced UKGC restrictions, markets overseas are seen as friendlier online spaces in which to operate. Swedish gaming giant Cherry AB acquired ComeOn in 2017 and together they recently launched Blitzino in Germany and Hajper in Sweden while looking at further opportunities in Denmark and Poland also.
CEO Lahcene Merzoug noted;
“The UK is a very mature and highly competitive market and the financial risks are big. We have never had a non-compliance breach, but we’ve seen competitors being fined big numbers and that creates uncertainty. At the same time the UK licence has lost its symbolic value. Before you almost had to have one to be looked upon as a credible company. Today we hold licences in many European countries and given that the UK has never been a big market for us, it’s a wise move to put our focus elsewhere.”
ComeOn, along with subsidiaries mobilebet.com and getlucky.com, will now join the online bingo and casino operator JPJ Group brands, Vera&John and InterCasino in exiting the UK market, with others likely to follow as legislation puts the squeeze on operators.
All UK ComeOn accounts will be deactivated on 30 September with players advised to withdraw any funds by 29 September 2019 .