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UK online betting threatens the Beautiful Game

The boom in UK-online gambling will come as no surprise to those irritated by betting adverts interrupting major televised sporting events. Not surprisingly, and to the consternation of offshore online gambling jurisdictions, the UK government has sought to cash in on this licensed vice by introducing a remote gambling point of consumption duty for all wagers placed within the UK.

Hard on the heels of this gambling expansion, now worth $700 billion annually, are forces that are determined to subvert the meaning of sport. Last month, as part of the EU’s and European Professional Footballers Leagues’ sponsored Staying Onside project: How to Stop Match Fixing, Transparency International published Safeguarding the Beautiful Game for the purpose of educating players of the corruption risks and assisting football clubs and officials to identify and prevent match fixing, spot fixing and using inside club information.

TI points out that the threat to the integrity of football is not a new phenomenon but that “Globalization and new technology — especially the internet — have combined to create new criminal-controlled betting markets.”  Significantly, TI draws attention to the fact that it is now possible to place large bets on minor matches and refers to an instance of wagers being placed on a youth tournament played in a Copenhagen park.

The publication provides a number of examples and likely scenarios in which players can be potentially corrupted. Various solutions and strategies are suggested. These may have more relevance to the top and well resourced clubs than for those playing at the lower levels. Certainly, the publication is useful for highlighting the issues that can arise, often through seemingly innocuous but cultivated relationships, and the possible precautions that can be taken. However, one senses that a juggernaut has been created through a combination of organised crime, endemic online gambling and vulnerable punters and players alike.

If online gambling on sporting events is to be tolerated at all, unlike the position in the United States, and if the UK government feels able to impose a remote gambling duty regime, then in the case of football and other similar sports, wagers should be restricted to the outcome of games played in the top divisions or at the highest levels, where the risks of corruption are reduced and can be tackled more effectively. Otherwise, the government will be profiting not only from a vice but helping to provide a honey pot for organized crime.

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Alistair Craig, a commercial barrister practicing in London, is a frequent contributor to the FCPA Blog.

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