STRIPPED of desperate compulsion, betting provides a thrilling edge to mundane sporting encounters.

If you doubt this then you haven’t experienced the rush of watching a horse bearing its rider – and your modest outlay – down the final strait at the head of a chase. Or seeing your chosen football team for the day defending your stake as though their lives depended on it. 

On these occasions, any losses are the affordable cost, happily borne, of momentarily living life a little more jaggy. 

Most of us who have ever placed a wager know the odds of sustained success are stacked against us from the outset but it’s a deal we’ve struck with our eyes open. We have been fortunate that any wrong turning we’ve made in our lives; any adversity, hasn’t yet left us prey to addiction. 

Digital technology increases in sophistication with each passing year. Those who can harness it quickly discover that it can be turned into sharp profit without meddlesome factors like human labour, factory costs and a care for the environment. This has transformed the act of placing a bet on a sporting outcome. 

READ MORE: Brian Rice case highlight how approach to gambling in Scottish football has to be revisited 

Previously, the issues associated with addiction and problem gambling were unintended and unsought. I’m not saying here you could ever have characterised this industry by its empathy for the flawed human condition. Once, there had been a degree of humanity though, where checks and balances might be provided simply by visiting a bookmakers and interacting with friends and neighbours. 

Now, billions are spent by the online gambling industry to ensure that addiction isn’t an unfortunate consequence but a desired outcome. And professional football, the most popular sport in the world, is where the lowest-hanging fruit is to be found. 

This week, Brian Rice, the respected manager of Hamilton Academical FC, became the latest high-profile football person to admit that he has been struggling with gambling addiction for most of his adult life.

His story is only the latest in a long litany of human tragedies associated with football and gambling.

Almost immediately the football tribe – managers, players and journalists – threw a protective cordon around him and praised Mr Rice for his dignity and courage in going public with his ordeal. Predictably, they strove to absolve the football authorities and our major clubs from any blame that might have attached to them owing to their lucrative association with online gambling. 
Some of their arguments were reasonable.

After all, much of the sponsorship cash can be spent on developing young players and supporting nearby health and wellbeing initiatives in local communities.

This though, is a bit like saying that if you swim with sharks it can give you a greater (and brief) appreciation of their natural environment.    

There is a reason why the predatory giants of the online gambling industry have targeted professional football. In no other sphere of human endeavour do so many working-class people gather in such huge numbers at regular intervals. 

According to recently reported research the industry is using third-party companies to collect personal data and thus enable online casinos to target low-income customers and ex-gamblers. One former digital marketing specialist in the industry said: “Third-party data providers allowed us to target their email lists with precision. Lower-income users were among the most successfully targeted segments.”

The eye-watering profits accruing from gambling allow operators to use every artifice and lever at their disposal to ensure they are ring-fenced. In the House of Commons several MPs recently sought to defend fixed-odds betting machines (FOBM), the so-called “crack cocaine of gambling” in the face of Government proposals to limit them. These politicians were later revealed to have received expensive gifts and hospitality from the betting industry. 

READ MORE: Neil Cameron: Brian Rice case nothing to do with hypocrisy 

So vast and pernicious is the influence of the gambling lobby that in 2018, the former Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch, was forced to admit defeat. She resigned after the government refused to back down on the timetable for reducing the maximum stake on FOBMs. She had wanted the change to be made earlier than the planned date of October 2019. Yet senior colleagues ignored her even when she said that the delay could lead to hundreds of people killing themselves because of gambling addiction linked to these machines. 

Ms Crouch wasn’t indulging in emotional hyperbole here. In 2018, research published in the journal Neuron, found that gambling makes people susceptible to depression and anxiety by altering the brain’s physical structure. Previous research had consistently found links associating gambling with debt, family breakdown and a suite of mental health issues.

The new research though, found that these affective disorders diminish the capacity to tolerate economic risk. 

The online behemoths prey on men (and it’s mainly men) when they are at their most vulnerable. This is when they are watching live football and drinking. 

Their smartphone devices are weaponised by the online companies to extract as much money as possible from them in the two-hour window available to them.

Odds are offered on every twist and turn of the action by a bewildering array of online products that bookend the televised pictures and analysis.  

The Gambling Commission recently fined a major online firm £2m after it missed more than 20 incidents indicating behaviour associated with a problem gambler. On one occasion the gambler immediately re-staked substantial winnings, suggesting this was either a money-laundering operation or an affluent addict. Yet this occurs much more often further down the financial scale but escapes scrutiny owing to the smaller sums.

The football authorities which solicit these firms and the clubs who prostitute themselves to them are just as culpable in spreading the disease of gambling addiction. They are knowingly giving licence to these companies to destroy the lives of their most vulnerable and disadvantaged supporters. 

My own team, Celtic, have won more trophies than I could ever have hoped for during my lifetime. Yet I would gladly trade all of them to redeem the life of one person and their family ruined by addiction to gambling. And I would beseech Celtic and all other clubs who permit their colours to be contaminated by the logos of these online jackals to be rid of them and to work harder to attract more ethical and less-lethal sponsorship.