Jon Ungoed-Thomas | The Sunday Times
The gambling regulator has warned two elite football teams they risk prosecution unless they ditch a Russian sponsor. Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham football clubs are being warned by Britain’s gambling regulator that they risk prosecution and millions of pounds in fines if they continue to promote their global betting partner 1xBet.
The Russian firm is no longer licensed to operate in Britain after an investigation last month by The Sunday Times. Harry Kane, the Tottenham striker, the Liverpool star defender Virgil van Dijk and the Chelsea striker Willian are among players who have helped plug the firm.
The Gambling Commission confirmed that it has written to the three clubs to say any promotion of 1xBet in this country may be unlawful, risking unlimited fines and up to 51 weeks’ imprisonment. Tottenham said this weekend that it had ditched 1xBet as its sponsor.
It is the first significant intervention by the regulator in a growing backlash over the bankrolling of football by the gambling industry. Premier League clubs have sponsorship deals with betting companies worth more than £80m a year.
It comes after this newspaper revealed 1xBet’s websites had been blacklisted by regulators around the world. Its brand had been used to promote betting on children’s sports, cockfighting and a “pornhub” casino with topless women dealing the cards. The firm is also one of the biggest advertisers on sites that stream Premier League matches illegally.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, said: “It is shocking that these football clubs failed to do the most basic due diligence checks on 1xBet before signing up for these multimillion-pound deals. It’s an absolute debacle.”
Founded in Russia in 2007, 1xBet is one of the fastest-growing gambling firms. Tottenham made 1xBet its global betting partner in Africa a year ago. In July this newspaper exposed the company for fuelling a youth gambling epidemic in Kenya.
Liverpool announced that month that 1xBet would be its official global betting partner in a four-year deal, with advertising at Anfield and on the club website. Chelsea made 1xBet its official betting partner for the next three seasons. Ten of the Premier League’s 20 teams have deals to promote a betting firm on their strip.
White Bullet Solutions, a London monitoring firm, has found that in the six months to July 31, 1xBet was the biggest advertiser on a list of nearly 4,000 websites with illegal content. One ad for 1xBet on a site with illegal content in the UK was a cartoon of a topless woman removing her underwear.
1xBet operated in the UK on a platform provided by FSB Technology (UK) Ltd. This firm is now being investigated by the Gambling Commission, and 1xBet’s UK website is suspended. The Gambling Commission said that, under rules introduced in 2016, licensed betting firms were not permitted to advertise on websites with illegal material.
It added: “We recently wrote to Liverpool FC, Chelsea FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC to remind them that organisations engaging in sponsorship, and associated advertising arrangements, with an unlicensed operator may be liable to prosecution . . . for the offence of advertising unlawful gambling.”
Tottenham said all its 1xBet rights had been “terminated”. Liverpool FC said it had no comment and Chelsea is understood to be ‘monitoring the situation’.
1xBet said: “We take very seriously the allegation that 1xBet’s brand has been promoted on prohibited sites, which is strictly against our policies, and we have launched an investigation. Pending the outcome . . . we believe it is responsible to temporarily suspend our advertising activity in the UK.”
Bron: The Sunday Times