I have a confession to make.
I don’t gamble often, but I do make occasional visits to a bookie, a newsagent, and sometimes even to a casino.
I’ve had some memorable days in the past when gambling has brought short term happiness into my life. When a substantial win has become a future dinner party anecdote.
In fact if it wasn’t for gambling I would not have made it through University.
I became that rare thing for a student. I left university with my account in the black. And all because I made a profit from gambling.
But I was one of the lucky ones (and not just because I won money from the bookies). I have had the self-discipline not to believe I will always win and not to chase my losses when gambling.
Even now, when finances are extremely tight, I don’t think that gambling could be the answer to my financial problems. But many others do think that, even when gambling has been the cause of their financial problems.
You see, gambling is a drug. And like any drug it affects people in different ways. And like so many other drugs, when it affects people adversely it can become addictive and life destroying.
Unless you’ve been a gambling addict or have lived with someone who is addicted to gambling, or have witnessed the devastating effects on people’s lives due to gambling, then it’s very difficult to empathise and visualise what life must be like for those affected by it.
For those of us who have the occasional flutter on the nags, or a weekly acca on the football, or place £2 on a random number lottery ticket, the idea of gambling being anything other than a leisure pursuit is apocryphal.
But for others it can ruin their lives.
I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been able to dip in and dip out of gambling without it affecting me (win or lose). But I’ve witnessed others who have been less fortunate, and whose lives, and the lives of those around them, have become downright miserable as a consequence.
It is this potential of gambling to destroy lives that makes me rail against its pernicious involvement in the game I love.
Promotion of gambling companies in football is omnipresent. It has pervaded its way into the game so much so that it has become the norm.
If you don’t think gambling messages are pervasive in football then you’ve not been paying attention.
When commentators refer to Stoke City’s stadium they refer to it by the company who bought the naming rights? But why do they do that? Why not just call it ‘Stoke City’s’ ground.
When looking at photos of Aston Villa playing Leeds United or Middlesbrough up against Derby County, all that stands out in the picture is that the name on both team’s shirts is that of the same gambling company. But why do clubs allow gambling company names on their shirts, especially when a large proportion of their fan-base are under 18s?
When club Twitter feeds promote competitions that require followers to like and RT a gambling company sponsor’s free ticket giveaway Tweet. Why do they do that when they know that many followers are not old enough to gamble?
When League and Football administrators get into bed with gambling companies because their sponsorship terms are so much more lucrative than can be provided by companies in other businesses. And these sponsorship names become the name of the Leagues and are regurgitated ad infinitum by those in the media.
When newspapers highlight the double standards of the FA for promoting a ‘heads-up’ mental health awareness campaign whilst at the same time licencing the FA Cup to a gambling company, when that self-same media is funded by overt gambling company adverts and actively runs gambling tips columns in its sports pages.
I could go on providing hundreds more examples of gambling companies’ Japanese Knotweed-like stranglehold on football.
And the reason gambling companies are so involved in football is down to one thing and one thing only; the continual pursuit of more and more profit by those in charge of the game and the clubs involved.
Why settle for £50million to name the stadium ‘the Electronics Company arena’ when for £250million it can be called ‘the Gambling Company ground’?
Why accept £30k to be called ‘the Garage Mechanics Company league’ when for £100k it could be ‘the Betting Company.com league’?
Why bank just £500k to have ‘local company name’ emblazoned on the front of shirts when £2.5milion means ‘foreign country’s gambling company name’ could be there instead?
Of course, it makes economic sense to accept the highest bidder, but surely there needs to be a moral compass somewhere amongst the clubs and the administrators that puts a check step in place to say there is a balance between the money being offered and where it’s coming from.
After all, surely money offered by drugs cartels, or cigarette companies, or arms dealers or porn producing companies would be refused no matter how much was offered. So why is money from gambling companies not refused as well?
And as long as gambling companies can get away with permeating all aspects of the game, they will continue to do so. Because they know it works.
They know it gets already addicted gamblers to carry on gambling. It converts the occasional gambler into a more frequent one. And it generates a whole load of new gamblers, particularly amongst those who are legally not allowed to gamble.
So, I’ll make a slight amendment to a statement I wrote earlier.
If you don’t think gambling messages are pervasive in football then it’s probably because it’s working.