Football joined forces with other major sports on Friday night to demand that bookmakers make a ‘fair return’ for exploiting their fixture lists and data for commercial purposes.
The move comes after Sportsmail’s revelations of unfair pricing and other underhand tactics that enable betting companies to fleece the fans.
The governing bodies of cricket, rugby union, rugby league and tennis, who along with football comprise the Major Sports Group, are calling on the next government to impose a sports levy on bookies’ profits that would be ploughed back into each sport to improve grassroots facilities and fund anti-corruption measures.
Football joined forces with other major sports to demand bookies make a ‘fair return’ on profits
Executives from all five sports have been lobbying the government and other political parties in private about the issue in recent months, with Sportsmail’s investigation convincing them to go public.
There is disappointment at the FA in particular that none of the three main parties have committed to a sports levy in their general election manifestos, and they are planning to exert more pressure after a new government has been formed next month. The bookmakers will resist calls to plough more money back into sport and a major political confrontation awaits.
Sportsmail on Friday exposed the tricks that helped UK bookies make £3.6billion from sports betting last year without putting money directly back into any sport other than racing.
Football is by far the most lucrative sport for bookmakers, who made profits of £1.5bn from bets placed on the national game last year, and the introduction of a levy would lead to a significant injection of funds at a time when the grassroots game is in crisis, as well as providing money to help the FA police the growing integrity issues facing the sport.
Former FA chief executive Martin Glenn raised the idea of a gambling tax to help fund grassroots football following the collapse of the proposed £600million sale of Wembley last year, and his successor Mark Bullingham is understood to have held talks with the other major governing bodies about pushing the issue over the last few months.
The racing levy is currently 10.75 per cent of the bookies’ gross profits, which brought £78m into the sport in 2018-19, and a similar levy introduced on football betting could yield in excess of £150m each year. Such a cash injection could be transformative in terms of facilities at a time when the FA rank only one in three recreational pitches to be ‘adequate’ following a season in which 94,000 matches at grassroots level were cancelled due to poor playing conditions.
The FA and the Premier League have been lobbying government for some time to introduce a levy, arguing that bookmakers have a moral duty to pay back into sport having created a multi-billion pound business on the back of each governing body’s intellectual property, i.e. the fixture list.
In addition to funding grassroots sport a levy could also be used to increase the resources given to each sport’s anti-corruption units, whose attempts to preserve the integrity of competition are hampered by the betting industry. The FA investigate more than 50 alleged breaches of gambling regulations every year, inquiries which lead to dozens of charges being brought against players and other participants.
The Premier League are working with the FA, and a spokesperson told Sportsmail that a levy could be used to strengthen their integrity measures.
‘The Premier League supports the idea that we should return to sport-related gambling charges,’ a spokesperson said. ‘The money could be reinvested in the game across all levels and ensure better protection for the consumer. It would also strengthen the integrity of the game.’
The football authorities received strong support from the ECB, whose chief executive Tom Harrison made proposals for a sports levy when appearing before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee last month. More than £700m a year is bet on cricket in the UK. In a statement released to Sportsmail the ECB called on the next government to bring in a sports levy to help champion integrity in sport.
‘At present the ECB does not receive any income at all from all of the betting that takes place on cricket,’ the ECB said. ‘As a non-profit organisation we reinvest every penny into the game including the funding of our robust anti-corruption programme, which is integral to ensuring cricket is a fair, safe and enjoyable sport for everyone.
Former FA chief Martin Glenn raised the idea of a gambling tax to help fund grassroots football
The FA and the Premier League have been lobbying government for some to introduce a levy
‘To support our work in this area we would like to see the new government introduce a form of fair return payment from the betting sector that could be re-invested into our anti-corruption work and growth of the game.
‘Redressing this would bring the UK in line with other countries and sports, and go a long way in supporting us to run a thriving sport at all levels.’
Both codes of rugby also called for a levy, with a spokesperson for the RFU saying that the gambling industry does not currently contribute a fair return from the money it makes from sport.
‘Sport provides a great product which betting companies reap the financial reward from,’ the RFU said. ‘However, the majority of sports do not see a fair return from the gambling industry and this needs to change.
‘All the money we make is invested into rugby and it is only fair that betting companies, who make money from our sport, also invest in its future success from the grassroots upwards.’
The Rugby Football League endorsed the message of their sister sport at Twickenham and called for a government review. ‘The Rugby Football League is in support of the call to all parties to consider this issue,’a spokesperson said. ‘We believe, together with the other leading sports, that there should be a review.’
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison had made proposals for a sports levy last month
The Lawn Tennis Association accused gambling companies of exploiting the efforts of players and administrators for commercial gain, and called for the sport to be recompensed. Tennis is the third most lucrative sport for bookmakers after football and racing, with the amount gambled on the sport having quadrupled in the last three years.
‘At present tennis in Britain has little control over the use of the sport by betting products, which capitalises on the time, money and effort that is invested in staging events and supporting players,’ an LTA spokesperson said.
‘There is a strong case for the introduction of a fair return from the betting sector, as already exists in other countries such as Australia, France and the US, that we can invest back into grassroots participation and growing the sport.’
The gambling industry argue they already make a significant contribution to sport through spending tens of millions of pounds on sponsorship. Little of that money reaches the grassroots however as few of the governing bodies have gambling partners, with the FA terminating their sponsorship deal with Ladbrokes three years ago.
A number of leading competitions have links to betting companies however, with the EFL sponsored by Sky Bet and the Super League by Betfred.
‘The betting industry, through its existing commercial media arrangements and sponsorship, already pay their fair share to football,’ said a spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council, who represent 90 per cent of bookmakers. ‘An additional levy on the industry is therefore not warranted.’
Both the Rugby Football Union and Rugby Football League demanded a betting crackdown