THE rules on gambling advertising within British football should be reviewed amid growing public health fears following a “dramatic” rise in betting sponsorship since legislation was relaxed, according to a study.

Research shows that half of the 12 Scottish Premiership sides include betting companies amongst their list of sponsors, including Celtic, Rangers, Motherwell, Hibs, Hamilton Accies and Partick Thistle.

South of the Border 95 per cent (75/79) of football shirt sponsorship deals with English clubs included in the study were struck since 2005 legislation which allowed betting advertising before the 9pm watershed.

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In the 2016/17 season half of the 20 English Premier League members carried gambling sponsorship on their shirts.

While the new research carried out last year found  two of the 12 members of the Scottish Premiership had gambling sponsors on their shirts in 2016/17, betting companies sponsor all three of the country’s flagship competitions – the SPFL, the Scottish Cup and the League Cup – to the tune of over £4 million a year.

It comes as the Institute of Public Policy Research recently estimated the burden gambling places on the public purse in the UK could be as great as £1.16 billion a year.

The researchers, from the University of Glasgow and Healthy Stadia, warned that gambling is a public health issue with addiction linked to mental illness and called on UK legislators and governing bodies of sport to urgently revisit the relationship between football and gambling industry sponsorship.

Separate research in October, last year found that some 95 per cent of TV advertising breaks during live UK football matches featured at least one gambling advert.

Under an agreement with the industry commercials can only be shown after the 9pm watershed except in sporting events.

It was calculated that during Sky Sports' coverage of Scotland's 3-0 defeat by Slovakia in October, last year, which kicked off at 7.45pm, 37 per cent of the adverts were gambling-related, with 19 betting adverts for eight different firms.

Bet365 has become a familiar brand to live football viewers.

And the new research said that that watershed should be re-examined.

Dr Chris Bunn, of the institute of health and wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, said: "They could seriously consider revisiting the watershed, and ask the question why is it okay that we can show a gambling advert at 3pm during football but we couldn't show it during a soap opera.

"We should be considering whether football should take such a ubiquitous approach to gambling sponsorship.

"In Scotland all four major leagues are sponsored by Ladbrokes, you have William Hill sponsoring the Scottish FA Cup and you have Betfred sponsoring the league cup. It is starting to look a lot like a monopoly of some kind, for our attention, during those matches.

"Gambling companies have monopolised the sponsorship of naming rights. We are challenging that.

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Celtic sponsored by Dafabet lifting the Betfred Cup in 2016

"The statistical analysis we did showed that after 2005, there was an unprecedented rise [in gambling advertising] and one that we can say is associated with the same time period as the legislation.

"And we really want legislators to ask the question, did they envisage the colonisation of football with gambling adverts...which was the consequence of this legislation.

"Yes, I think the relationship is problematic and we should be considering whether we want such widespread promotion of gambling in our public spaces."

The study published in the Journal, Soccer & Society analysed shirt sponsorship since the English Premier League's inaugural season of 1992/1993 to present day, and since the start of the Scottish Premier League in 1998/99.

The first gambling sponsor appeared on an English Premier League club shirt in 2002/03 and in the 2014/15 season in Scotland's Premier League.

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The report concluded: "Given this apparent growth in visibility of gambling company branding and messaging in EPL and SPL contexts, public health in the UK should respond accordingly by pressing the issue with relevant public authorities, football governing bodies, broadcast and online rights holders, and individual clubs.

"All these groups have a responsibility to consider the ethical issues related to the environment that is created for their (global) supporters when they engage with football.

"Our findings suggest that legislators should revisit the impact that the Gambling Act 2005 has had on football sponsorship and its potential relationship to gambling-related harms."

In June, last year, the Football Association in England abruptly ended its £4 million-a-year sponsorship deal with Ladbrokes after deciding it could no longer justify having a betting partner.

At the time the Scottish FA insisted that it has no plans to reappraise its commercial relationship with betting companies.

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Hibs sponsored by Marathon Bet lifting the William Hill Scottish Cup in 2016

Robin Ireland, director of research at Healthy Stadia, which co-wrote research, said: “We need to be clear that gambling is a public health issue with a significant burden of harm associated with it.

“There is a huge potential for harm in the future, with new technological devices driving forms of remote gambling, 24 hours a day. It is now reported more young football fans bet on the sport than play in a team.

“We suggest the relationship between football and gambling is very unhealthy.”

A Scottish FA spokesman said: “The Scottish FA takes its responsibility towards gambling within football seriously and has clear rules in place prohibiting gambling which apply to players, referees and directors.

"In addition, we have delivered comprehensive gambling education workshops to all 42 SPFL clubs and academies.

"Scottish football has long enjoyed productive and responsible relationships with a number of betting companies and we are grateful for their continued support of our national game.

“Their investment helps drive the development of a number of important initiatives that impact upon all levels of the national game.”

An SPFL spokesman said: “Significant investment by bookmakers in recent years has benefited all 42 clubs and supported the growth of Scottish football. These sponsors share a positive vision for the future of our game and promote responsible gambling.”