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Football Association and Bet365

Volume 801: debated on Thursday 9 January 2020


My Lords, with the leave of your Lordships, I will repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question asked earlier today in another place. The Answer is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, recent reports on the streaming of FA Cup matches by online bookmakers have rightly caused concern across this House. This is relating to a media rights deal, agreed by the FA with IMG in early 2017, within which IMG could sell on live footage or clips of certain FA Cup matches to commercial partners.

Bet365 and six other betting operators acquired these rights from IMG to use from the start of the 2018-19 season. It is right that sporting organisations have the freedom to benefit commercially from their products and negotiate their own broadcasting deals, but football authorities also have an important responsibility to ensure that fans are protected from the risks of problem gambling. Since this deal was agreed, the FA has rightly reviewed its position on commercial relationships with gambling businesses. It has ended a commercial partnership with Ladbrokes, and it has announced that it will be reviewing its processes for tendering rights from the 2024-25 season onwards—and it is absolutely correct that it does so.

The Secretary of State and I have made our views quite clear, yesterday and previously, on the wider responsibilities that both the sport and gambling sectors have to their fans, to their customers and to wider communities, so we welcome the fact that industry has responded to public concern by introducing a whistle-to-whistle ban on TV advertising during daytime sport, and that the FA introduced a rule last year that prevents players, managers and members of staff, in any capacity, from deliberately taking part in audio or audio-visual advertising to actively encourage betting, because, while many people enjoy gambling as a leisure pursuit, we cannot forget that it carries a high risk of harm and can seriously impact individuals, families and communities. So all of us—the Government, gambling companies and sporting authorities—need to keep this momentum going so we can protect vulnerable people from the risk of gambling-related harm.”

My Lords, I can only say that I am flabbergasted by all that this imports and how it impacts upon us. Goaded by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, the question of gambling in various forms and its dangers have been aired and debated in this House. A committee is currently looking at the harm that gambling does, and it can be quantified and dealt with in other parts of our organisation.

I could not give a fig about the commercial or contractual relations between gambling companies and the way that this matter has been siphoned down from one holding body to seven different gambling companies. That is far too theological for me, and I will leave it to members of the church by law established. However, in the Statement, there is a recognition by the Football Association that it must review its processes of tendering for the 2024-25 season, and we expect, from the notes that we are hearing, that things will be different thereafter.

Not only that, Her Majesty’s Government have recognised the correctness of that procedure and we must therefore expect concord between the Government and the FA at that time. But if it is going to be wrong then, it is wrong now. It should not have happened, and I would like to hear a note of urgency in the way that the Minister replies to this debate. She must bring out all her guns in order to bring together the top people in the major organisations that are implementing all of this in order that they understand that this House thinks very ill of this proposal and wishes it undone.

The noble Lord makes important points about the timing of all of this, and I acknowledge the important role that your Lordships’ House has played in bringing issues of problem gambling to the fore. I am sure that noble Lords will continue to do that. The noble Lord talked about timing. My honourable friend the Minister for Sport in the other place spoke to the FA this morning and will be meeting its representatives next week. He made it extremely clear that he expects them to explore every possible avenue to bring this situation to an end as quickly as possible.

My Lords, I agree with the general tone of what has been said so far about gambling being potentially damaging and that we should not be advertising it on something that is seen by many of the young. But will the Government undertake to remove some of the financial burden that falls on groups such as the FA to make sure that we can play grass-roots sport? The FA has to fund and support grass-roots pitches when, in places such as Germany, local government does that. Will the Government look round and see that government action will make this sort of activity more likely if you are mean with supporting things such as grass-roots sport?

The Government have taken the issue of grass-roots sport very seriously and recently announced more than £500 million of investment in exactly that.

My Lords, 25 years ago, when I was in charge of gaming, among other things, at the Home Office, the rule was that operators were not allowed to stimulate demand. Bookmakers were not even allowed to be in the Yellow Pages. This has now got completely out of hand and we need to return to that system. The National Lottery was supposed to be just about the National Lottery—but, if you try to buy a ticket online, all sorts of instant gaming solutions are available. The Government need to grip this and go back—if not to 1996, then certainly to bring in restrictions on misuse, of which this is just the most egregious example.

My noble friend had an even more interesting career at the Home Office than I imagined. We have announced that there will be a review of the Gambling Act. My honourable friend the Minister for Sport said this morning that nothing was off the table in terms of that review, and we also announced in the manifesto that we would address the issue of using credit cards to gamble. So the Government have heard this loud and clear and are keen to act.

My Lords, the huge rise in what many campaigners are calling the gamblification of sport is happening rapidly before our eyes. The Gambling Commission itself has identified 55,000 teenagers in this country suffering from gambling-related harm and 430,000 adults. Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, has pointed out that it is costing a hard-pressed NHS up to £1.2 billion a year. Just yesterday, a new gambling clinic opened in Sunderland funded by the NHS. Will this review, which we are grateful that Her Majesty’s Government have promised, include the issue of the gamblification of sport and look at things such as logos on shirts and wraparound adverts around pitches—all of which are excluded at the moment, which make a mockery of the whistle-to-whistle ban that we were promised?

I can only repeat that nothing is off the table in the review of the Act, so I would assume that exactly those issues of the gamblification—if that is a word—of sport and the examples the right reverend Prelate gives will be addressed. To be clear, the issues that came up over the weekend do not apply to under-18s—but, even so, I take his point.

My Lords, I grew up in a household where football dominated our weekends. We were football fanatics, and I am afraid that has lived with me. That is true for a lot of children and young people. As the right reverend Prelate said, my home city of Sunderland is suffering from this. People do not start out as vulnerable. In my day, nobody associated gambling with football. It was not an issue. I grew up in a Methodist household, so that made it a bit easier. We never did raffle tickets, and I have never placed a bet in my life. However, for young children growing up now, it is seen as part of football. That is what the Government have to tackle so that young people do not see it as a normal thing that, if they are interested in football, they get involved in gambling. That is what the Government have to tackle.

The Government are going to try to tackle that. There is wide acknowledgement that the gambling regulations were set up for an analogue age. We are now in a digital age and the goalposts—not to make too awful a pun—have moved substantially. Perhaps I can in some small part reassure the House in that the FA will be broadcasting those games that are currently available only through betting sites in 2021 on its own site. I know that does not address the noble Baroness’s point, but it will happen and will mean that young people will not need to go to a betting site to view those games.

My Lords, this Urgent Question reflects how much has changed since this third-party contract was signed in, I believe, 2014-15 and was rolled forward in 2017. When the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport sit down next week with the FA, will they urgently review what changes to the Gambling Act are necessary? In the meantime, will they also approach Bet365, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Forsyth as stimulating demand. That company has revenues of £3 billion. The conditionality attached to this contract is that people have either to place a bet or to put £5 into a new account 24 hours before kick-off. Could the Government ask Bet365 immediately to rescind those two conditions, which stimulate demand?

On my noble friend’s first point, I repeat that that will be part of the review. On the conversation directly with Bet365, I will need to check. When my honourable friend was asked on this point in the other place, he responded that the FA was in constant contact with Bet365. I am genuinely unclear to what extent we can interfere in an existing commercial contract—but we are very clear with the FA, and will be again next week, that we wish it to take every possible measure to deal with this as quickly as possible.