Parliament has a responsibility to future-proof regulation of football betting
We want a healthy gambling industry that can strike the right balance between contributing to the economy and being socially responsible, writes Tracey Crouch MP
Recent reports highlighting a broadcasting link between the FA and gambling firms yet again shone a light on the link between football and betting, this time via how the FA Cup is broadcast.
The specific story of a rights deal to stream the FA Cup via betting websites raised considerable cross-party concern, especially when one company, Bet365, made it conditional that you either had to open an account with a £5 deposit or place a bet to enable you to access the footage.
We have come a long way since the days when I often felt a lone voice talking about gambling and the risk of harm it brings. Now there are many confident voices on my side of the House joining those on the opposition benches to ensure that safeguards are in place for those whose betting habits change from responsible to harmful.
I am not anti-gambling. Given I place bets myself, I would be a hypocrite if I was. I bet on horses, football, golf and politics mainly, but not very often. I don’t have an app on my phone or an online account because I know myself too well and would find it too tempting to chance my luck on the 2.30 at Haydock rather than just limit myself to the bigger events, sporting or otherwise.
But one of the challenges that many face is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore or zone out from gambling because of its increasing normalisation into everyday life.
I met an addict in Portcullis House who could tell me how many bookmakers were between Westminster and his home in Surrey via Waterloo train station. Every day is a battle of will. And the one thing he can’t do is go to a football match. His team is sponsored by a betting firm, the perimeter electronic boards have gambling advertising whizzing around on a regular basis, and outside the ground are at least four retail bookmakers.
Like an alcoholic in recovery avoiding the pub, he has to avoid football. He nearly lost his family and his job because of his addiction, and openly said he would have considered taking his own life, but thankfully he has support and is battling his way through. This is a tale too often told.
I am delighted that Government has committed to a review of the 2005 Gambling Act
As a Conservative politician it is against my natural instinct to dictate that a sport or indeed a business in a sport shouldn’t do deals with gambling companies, but this is surely where responsibility must come in.
If there is a flagrant disregard of the impact that betting is having on your audience, whether that is young children at home, football-mad teenagers in their room or spectators in a ground, then maybe government should take the decision for them. It is, after all, the state that picks up the cost of addiction.
A lot of work has been done by government, charities, the NHS and, to be fair, in some cases the industry to highlight the harms, expose bad practices and then improve safeguards. But so much more needs to be done.
The legislation is out of date given the advance of online gambling and I am delighted that the Government has committed to a review of the 2005 Gambling Act.
The FA/Bet365 issue was simply a reminder that things can slip through the cracks. Now that Parliament is more aware than ever before of the responsibility it has to future-proof regulation of the industry, I genuinely think we can do something brilliant that protects people from harmful risks while allowing those who gamble responsibly the freedom to continue.
Tracey Crouch is MP for Chatham and Aylesford