Soccer yielded a record £1.4 billion ($1.8 billion) in revenues for UK bookmakers in the full year from October 2015 to September 2016, according to figures released this week by the UK Gambling Commission.
That resulted in all-time-high profits of £333.4 million ($432 million). The data comes as the sport and its governing body in the UK, the FA, has been accused of having too cozy a financial relationship with betting companies, who provide it with multiple millions in sponsorship deals.
Meanwhile, there have lately been several high profile cases of soccer players succumbing to gambling addiction and the BBC has reported that gambling among players is widespread.
Most recently, Burnley midfielder Joey Barton admitted to placing bets on 1,260 matches between 2006 and 2013, including at least five in which he was a player.
He was fined and banned from the game for 18 months, and later fired by Burnley. Pro soccer players are prohibited from placing bets on their own sport, regardless of whether they are directly involved in the games or not.
Elephant in the Locker Room
Barton, an outspoken social media user, has admitted he is a gambling addict and criticized the FA for failing to take into consideration a medical report that showed he had sought help for his addiction. He also accused the FA of hypocrisy.
The FA has a longstanding deal with bookmaker Ladbrokes while, in the 2016-17 Premier League season, ten of the 20 teams competing in the division were sponsored by betting companies.
“If the FA is truly serious about tackling the culture of gambling in football, it needs to look at its own dependence on the gambling companies, their role in football and in sports broadcasting, rather than just blaming the players who place a bet,” said Barton.
In the wake of the Barton affair, FA Chairman Greg Clarke said the organization would review its policies on betting sponsorship, as well as its deal with Ladbrokes. It is expected to make a decision on the issue later this summer.
FOBTs Revenues Also Break Records, But For How Long?
Meanwhile, the other important takeaway from the new UKGC stats was that another cause célèbre of the British media, fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), also yielded record revenues for the betting industry.
The terminals, which are installed in betting shops throughout the country, now account for more than 50 percent of the industry’s land-based betting revenue, but there is a perception that they are responsible for increased gambling addiction and social problems.
The British government has undertaken a review of the machines, which may result in a reduction of maximum stakes. Brits wagered a record $1.82 billion on the machines last year.