Sunday 23 October 2016

Bookmakers offering bets on Premier League players being gay is degrading and sadly predictable

The world of online gambling is deeply depressing but sport relies too heavily on gambling to protest

James Corrigan

Published 28/10/2015 | 16:14

An online bookmakers' offer for punters to bet on which players might come out as gay was tawdry in the extreme
An online bookmakers' offer for punters to bet on which players might come out as gay was tawdry in the extreme

Is there no depths to which bookmakers will not sink to gain some cheap publicity? It seems not, not now one of this increasingly despicable breed are offering odds on which Premier League footballer will declare himself as gay.

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Of course, they could dive even deeper into the sludge. They could publish betting markets for the next superstar to die, the next television entertainer to be arrested, the next country to suffer a natural disaster. And if they thought they could get away with it then, be sure, some of the more irresponsible would. Because in their tawdry world, everything has its price.

Stonewall, the gay rights charity, rightly condemned the actions of this betting firm, slamming it for “trivialising the issue” and of “cashing in”.

It could have gone further. It could have accused the bookmaker of putting up another blockade in the minds of whichever individual or individuals are contemplating coming out. By its very nature, the market is pejorative, based on hunches which are doubtless based on stereotype. It is cheap, laddish and, yes, insulting.

The company, which shall remain nameless, knew all of this before it commissioned some equally wretched PR agency to send out the emails to media outlets. In general, bookmakers only receive bad publicity anyway, so they readily conform to the cliche. This was essentially not about enticing a few mug punters to hand over their hard-earned, this was more to do with garnering attention for its website.

If you were actually sad enough to want to bet on the player’s identity then you would probably not be able to place a significant amount. You rarely can on these “novelty” bets which are obviously so open to “insider trading” abuse. In their typically cowardly manner the bookmakers seek to grasp the rewards without taking much of a risk, although they always paint the picture of themselves as being gallant and daring.

The oldest trick in the satchel is to put out a press release that “a mystery punter” in such and such a betting shop gambled £10,000 on so-and-so to be sacked. Be sceptical. They would probably not accept the stake even if such a character - presumably in a big mac, wearing a hat and Groucho Marx moustache and glasses - actually existed.

 With absolutely no way of proving or disproving the bet, the bookmaker is simply trying to generate a buzz in order not only to attract the suckers into this market but also to all their other markets. It is obscene and should be illegal, as should those ghastly fixed odds terminals which have been described as “the crack cocaine” of gambling.

Certainly the football authorities should try to do something about those horrid “sack race” odds. When Alex Smith, the chief executive of the Scottish League Managers Association, recently described these markets as "undignified and unfair”, the Ladbrokes chief executive, Jim Mullen, had the cheek to write to him and maintain that the practice was “neither cruel nor insensitive - it's life".

 Mr Mullen, betting on a fellow human being to lose his or her job is “cruel and insensitive”. That is exactly what it is. And just because, as you put it, this comes with the territory of a high-profile position does not make it “dignified” or “fair” either. Anything but, in fact.

But then, football can hardly leap on to its high horse when it comes to the great British bookie. It shamelessly cosies up to the betting industry, gratefully accepting its money and allowing Ray Winstone to prey on the addicted. Eight of the 20 Premier League clubs have the names of betting firms emblazoned across their team-shirts, while they all have “betting partners”.

With bookmakers even acting as title sponsors of entire leagues, the relationship is out of hand and needs reining in. Now more than ever.

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