A watching brief

A watching brief

In our latest blog for SBC News, Susan O'Leary looks at why the football betting industry needs to embrace regulation to ensure long-term success.


The relationship between football betting operators and governments, regulators and advertising watchdogs has, and always will be, a game of tug of war. Operators want to maximise exposure for their brands and offer consumers more markets across more games and leagues than their rivals. The latter, on the other hand, want to keep a watching brief to ensure the integrity of the sport and the betting industry remain intact, with punters protected and prevented from developing unhealthy wagering habits.

It’s a difficult balance to strike, and there is still a long way to go until the football betting industry can consider itself stable and sustainable. Just last month, Burnley midfielder Joey Barton was handed an 18-month ban by the FA for breaking rules related to gambling on the sport, placing more than 1,200 wagers (some against his own team loosing) over a ten-year period. Barton has in no way been accused of match fixing, but the case shows how high profile, widespread, and ingrained betting on football is.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing – betting and sports go hand in hand – but it proves the industry, and those operating in it, need to be closely monitored. Some have put forward the argument for greater self-regulation – members of the Senet Group, which include bookmakers such as William Hill and Paddy Power, have made strides with its When The Fun Stops, Stop campaign – but oversight really must come from independent third parties for it to be truly effective.

Football betting operators need to be held accountable to internationally recognised standards; they must be licensed and fully compliant with the rules of the game. That’s as much for their protection as it is for the punters and those at risk of problem play. Operators, governments, regulators and advertising watchdogs must work together, however, to ensure that frameworks and requirements don’t restrict businesses and wrap them round so much red tape they become tangled.

By working together, we all benefit from one another’s knowledge and experience. We can learn more about football betting operators, the challenges they face, and how licencing and regulation can help them clear these hurdles. The key is transparency; operators must be open and honest with their players, and educate them on how to play sensibly and within their mental and financial limits. They must also offer help to those whose play becomes cause for concern.

Licensing and regulation helps achieve this; it puts various mechanisms in place that stop players exceeding their limits – loss limits, time limits, systems that track patterns of play and raise a flag against those wagering unusually – and ensure the right help is readily available for those who feel they need it. It means operators have a happier, healthier relationship with consumers, providing them with the right environment in which to bet on their favourite football teams, players, matches and leagues.

When done properly, regulation doesn’t restrict businesses. It allows them to push the boundaries in a safe and secure environment. For football betting operators, it means they can develop and launch new and exciting products and features, offer more markets on more games and leagues, but in a sensible and sustainable manner.

The game of tug of war will continue to take place, but sooner or later we will all meet in the middle.

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