WALKERS are gathering today in Scotland in a campaign to end all gambling sponsorship, advertising and promotion in football.

The Big Step will be walking from Ibrox to Parkhead to support the campaign, saying that there is a suicide risk from gambling disorders.

Local organisers point to the fact that several Scottish clubs, including Rangers and Celtic, have gambling shirt sponsorship while they have been playing in the SPFL football league structure that was sponsored by Ladbrokes.

And they are calling for an independent NHS treatment system for gambling disorders in Scotland.

READ MORE: Kevin McKenna: Football must stop the betting firms preying on fans 

Leading the symbolic demonstration will be Martin Paterson, a recovering gambling addict from Glasgow who now runs the Beat The Fix project.

HeraldScotland:

He said: “Scottish football is addicted to gambling industry money – nowhere more obviously than in the ridiculous levels of gambling advertising that covers our stadiums, our kits and our screens. Children don’t get the dangers but all they see is the brand, and the gambling companies know it. I’m doing The Big Step because I love football – but I can’t watch it anymore.

“Every time I turn on the TV, I see less and less sport and more and more gambling ads. It needs to stop – now.

“Every problem gambler starts off with the occasional flutter and by the time you’re looking for a cure, it’s often too late.

“If you’re struggling with your gambling, it’s not your fault –speak to someone. That’s the first Big Step.”

Also joining in will be Inverclyde MP Ronnie Cowan, a leading member of a Westminster group probing the game’s gambling problem, who has demanded Scotland’s top football clubs pledge to cut ties with the betting industry.

HeraldScotland: MP Ronnie Cowan

He has written to all 42 professional sides urging them to sign a charter to see them end all sponsorship deals with gambling companies and refuse to display advertising in their grounds, in print or digitally.

He has told Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) chief Neil Doncaster that the £2 million-a-year revenue brought from a sponsorship deal with Ladbrokes was insufficient for the amount of promotion gambling gets in the game.

In August, it emerged that Ladbrokes opted not to extend its five-year partnership with the SPFL which, when extended in 2017, was heralded as the biggest ever in Scottish football.

The gambling company is no longer associated with the SPFL which is now seeking new sponsorship. The Betfred Cup is now the only SPFL competition currently sponsored by a gambling company. Ladbrokes is one of several bookmakers which agreed in December to scale back its visibility in sport.

In a May survey commissioned by the GambleAware charity, YouGov estimated that up to 2.7 per cent of adults in Great Britain, or nearly 1.4 million people, were problem gamblers. 

But experts urged caution over the figure, insisting that the true addiction rate is likely to be closer to the health survey figures of 0.7% cited by industry regulator the Gambling Commission.

READ MORE: Scottish Government is wrecking the viability of hundreds of betting shops in Scotland

The report also found that as many as 7% of adults, or 3.6 million people, report having been negatively affected by someone else’s gambling problem.

Overall, the research suggests that nearly five million British people have experienced harm linked to gambling, even accounting for the overlap between problem gamblers and those they affect.

And the number of child problem gamblers has quadrupled to more than 50,000 in two years and has been branded a “generational scandal”.

A Gambling Commission audit from 2018 reveals that the number of problem gamblers aged 11 to 16 rose to 55,000 over two years. It also found that 70,000 youngsters were at risk and that 450,000 children bet regularly – the equivalent of one in seven children aged 11 to 16.

The Scottish end of The Big Step comes in the run-up to an expected announcement by the Government of its review of the Gambling Act. Across the UK, gambling addicts, joined by their families, are doing a sponsored 130-mile walk across five days at the end of September, visiting seven different Premier League and Championship football clubs that have gambling sponsors or partners. 

A Scottish walk spokesman said: "Young people make up a significant percentage of the audience of the Scottish Premiership football and are being exposed to gambling through shirt sponsorship, league sponsorship, pitch side advertising, TV broadcast advertising, social media coverage and endorsements by footballers.

"This exposure is proven to increase brand recall and brand recognition in children as young as six years old, normalising gambling as a part of football.

"Many of these placement, like gambling advertising on sports shirts, are not in scope of the 'whistle to whistle' ban run by the gambling industry – and so are clearly on view during every game sponsored.

"This event hopes to draw attention to the suicide risk of gambling disorder, while promoting the development of an independent NHS treatment system in Scotland – modelled on the NHS Northern Gambling Service in England."

Mr Cowan, who is concerned about the looming “gambling and mental health crisis” in the sport says the SPFL should use the opportunity and its influence to curb gambling advertising in Scottish football.

“Gambling is a silent killer which is spreading in our communities and the promotion of it through football warrants serious scrutiny," said Mr Cowan.

The Gambling Act is no longer fit for purpose, many would argue it never was but it is now a badly conceived act from the analogue age incapable of curbing the insatiable appetite of the gambling industry in the digital 24/7 world we live in now.

"Sport should be about exercise and good health, it should encourage social interaction. It shouldn’t be promoting an industry that leads to bankruptcy, poor mental health and in many cases suicide.

"Football teams with gambling sponsors on their shirts are part of the soft sell to children and young adults before they are of gambling age. It normalises gambling and that is both dangerous and irresponsible.”

Reports published by the Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group and the House of Lords Select Committee on The Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry have called for a ban on gambling sponsorship and advertising in football.

The Government is to respond to the reports at the end of September and the Gambling Act is reportedly set to be begin being reviewed.

A campaign spokesman said: "At this critical time, it’s essential to keep the pressure on policy makers and encourage football clubs to be proactive ahead of legislative changes."

An SPFL spokesman said: “For many fans, having a bet on the game is part of their enjoyment of the sport. Indeed, since the introduction of the football pools, betting has long been closely associated with our game and has provided much-needed income to football for many decades.

“Our clubs and sponsors actively promote responsible gambling, which the SPFL fully supports, and we continue to engage regularly with Gamble Aware.”