Wednesday 18 September 2019

Donnchadh Boyle: 'Cost of bad PR more than manageable for multi-billion-euro gambling industry'

The Bootroom

The result of motion 1 prohibiting the sponsorship of any GAA competition, team, playing gear or facility by a betting company, that was passed, displayed in the hall during the GAA Annual Congress at Croke Park in Dublin last February issues. Photo: Sportsfile
The result of motion 1 prohibiting the sponsorship of any GAA competition, team, playing gear or facility by a betting company, that was passed, displayed in the hall during the GAA Annual Congress at Croke Park in Dublin last February issues. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

In terms of PR at least, it was another bad week for the gambling industry. The revelations by 'The Guardian' that Ladbrokes in the UK agreed to pay £1m to the victims of a problem gambler who had stolen the money he was using to bet, in return for a pledge not to inform the industry regulator, shone an uncomfortable light on the industry.

For a day at least.

It was exploitation at its most vicious. At one stage, the gambler was asked for proof of income "to comply with the regulator's policy".

The paper went on to report that "When he didn't receive a response, the account manager wrote: 'Don't worry mate won't need this now.'"

The story raised a few hackles and prompted a few tweets but in general it all seemed to blow over quite quickly. There were other things to be getting on with.

It's not the first time the seemingly ubiquitous gambling industry has dirtied its bib and it's certain not to be the last. Earlier this year, it emerged that Paddy Power Betfair were fined €2.5 million by the UK gambling watchdog for a raft of failings including improper anti-money laundering checks and failure to protect people who were showing signs of addiction which included allowing a punter to gamble money stolen from a dogs' home.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Society reflects the extent to which gambling has permeated everyday life. Sit down and watch a Premier League game and there's a good chance one of the teams will be sponsored by a gambling company.

Nine of the 20 sides have a gambling firm as their shirt sponsor. And the ones that don't have tapped the revenue resource in a different way. For example, Liverpool's official twitter account tweeted offering odds on Mo Salah to score in both halves. Most of the 99 replies came from Liverpool's own supporters asking them to stop.

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Go to a Leinster match and there's sideline hoarding advertising Sportpesa. Pick up this or any newspaper or listen to a radio and there's likely to be a special or an offer from one bookmaker or another. Simply put, there is no getting away from it.

So the outrage that follows a story like that in 'The Guardian' will only ever be short-lived because, for all its faults, the gambling industry is hugely profitable and therefore very attractive for media houses, governments and all kinds of institutions.

The GAA are a notable exception. Earlier this year it voted to outlaw sponsorship from betting companies. It was a noble gesture but also one that cost the association next to nothing. Crossmaglen had an association with a firm while Louth, and later Armagh, had an association with BoyleSports but there was little else.

Over the last number of years the Gaelic Players Association advised that gambling was one of the biggest issues facing its members. With time to burn and a world of gambling literally at their fingertips through smartphones, players were particularly susceptible.

But by and large gambling companies hadn't yet tapped into the GAA and they got out ahead of it. Back in February's Congress, the GAA's delegates were unequivocal. Of the 270 votes, 93pc were in favour banning sponsorship from gambling companies. You'd wonder how different that vote would have been if counties were being ask to cut ties with existing revenue streams, rather than non-existent ones.

Still, the GAA has cut any links but in terms of the wider sports picture, they are sailing into the wind. Gambling remains a harmless pastime for most and as long as it retains its broad appeal, it will retain its huge profitability.

The industry has gotten so big that it is way beyond the control of anyone. For example, Paddy Power Betfair recorded a 13pc year-on-year revenue increase to €1.9bn in 2017.

John Halligan TD called for the tax on gambling to be doubled with the increased revenue ring-fenced to help provide addiction services but the government have a careful balancing act to pull off given the industry props up horse racing and, by extension, thousands of jobs directly and indirectly. There just isn't that much appetite to tackle such a thorny issue.

Governing bodies and sports teams would probably rather get their money from elsewhere but where there's a bill there's a way.

So the story in 'The Guardian' this week? The industry will have walked it off. The cost of bad PR is more than manageable when you're a multi-billion-euro industry.

Irish Independent

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