UK Gambling Ad Ban Could Kill Sports Like Snooker, Darts, Insiders Warn

Posted on: February 1, 2021, 04:13h. 

Last updated on: February 1, 2021, 05:10h.

The UK’s proposed gambling reforms pose an existential threat to certain sports, the government has been warned.

Barry Hearn
Sports promoter Barry Hearn believes a blanket gambling ad ban would be a “disaster for every layer” of sports. (Image: PA)

A likely ban on gambling advertising around sporting events represented the greatest crisis to idiosyncratically British pro sports like snooker and darts since the prohibition of tobacco advertising, industry leaders said. It would also impact soccer, boxing, and rugby league.

Meanwhile, proposed “affordability checks” for gamblers who lose more than $100 in a month would hit horse racing by $100 million per year. One racing industry figure said this week that the threat of affordability checks was more worrying for the industry than the financial impact of COVID-19.

Tightening Controls

The government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) began its long-awaited review of the country’s gambling laws on December 8, 15 years after the last major shakeup. The 2005 Gambling Act liberalized much of the market and relaxed restrictions around gambling advertising on television.

But campaigners believe the 2005 legislation went too far, and have called for tighter regulatory controls to combat problem gambling. The nation’s betting industry is experiencing a backlash from the public and the media, and lawmakers say they want to ensure rules are “fit for the digital age.”

Sources have told several media outlets that there is a real appetite in the DCMS to ban gambling advertising and sponsorship in sports.

Half of English Premier League teams and 16 out of the 24 second-tier Championship teams had betting companies as shirt sponsors last season. Many feel it has reached a saturation point, and that it normalizes gambling to children.

How Betting Saved Snooker

But Barry Hearn, founder and chairman of Matchroom Sports, which promotes boxing, snooker, and darts, told The Daily Telegraph today that a blanket ad ban would be “a disaster for every layer of sport (sic).”

Hearn knows only too well the damage the sudden cessation of sponsorship money can wreak on a sport. In 2005, the ban on tobacco sponsorship drained the prize money out of snooker, making the game uneconomical for its players. The crisis was brief. By 2007, the sport had been saved by newly legalized gambling sponsorship.

Meanwhile, a ban on logos on soccer jersey sponsorships would likely hurt smaller teams the most. That at a time when the pandemic has already exerted immense financial pressure on the lower leagues.

“This comes at the worst possible time for football clubs and sports clubs generally, who are struggling with their revenue base during the pandemic,” an EPL source told The Times. “Most clubs agree with the general principle. But the timing is wrong.”

It is thought that the implementation of any such move would be delayed by several years to give teams the opportunity to seek alternative sponsorship deals.