AS Neil Doncaster embarks upon the task of finding a new sponsor for the SPFL to fill the void left by Ladbrokes, it is a safe bet that the first page of his Rolodex he flicks to will be ‘B’ for Bookmakers.

For all of those hoping that the decision by Ladbrokes’ operating company GVC Holdings to end their financial support for the Scottish leagues at the end of this season would signal a shift away from the omnipotence of gambling sponsorship across our game, a rude awakening may be ahead.

That’s the message from Carl Rohsler, an eminent lawyer and one of the United Kingdom’s leading experts on gambling law, who has been involved in brokering sponsorship deals for teams in England such as Aston Villa, Fulham and West Brom.

Whether you like it or not, Rohsler is firmly of the belief that football is now caught in a cycle, where the level of wages in the British game as a whole are so dependent on sponsorship and broadcast revenue – which is in turn so entwined with the gambling industry – that if other bookmakers follow Ladbrokes’ lead, then the whole house of cards will come tumbling down.


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Simply put, there is no one else who is interested in stepping in, leaving the gambling industry with a vice-like grip on football, and holding all the cards in negotiations.

Sport exists because of the gambling industry,” Rohsler said. “The horse racing industry, for example, exists purely to provide content for the gambling industry.

“There is a great deal of misunderstanding and hypocrisy. Sports bodies are quite happy to point the finger at gambling operations for being unethical, while at the same time, most of those bodies or teams would not be able to pay the bills to keep their beloved football club going that has been there since 1856 or whatever without them.

“The economics of football are such that they can’t get the players they want with the ticket prices at the current level without money from somewhere, and no one else is going to be able to pay them anything like that kind of money if it’s not a gambling organisation.

“Who is being weak? We are all being weak. But if you are going to be weak about it, then you have to accept you are being weak about it. You can’t hold onto the moral high ground and also say that you’d quite like three million quid, and since a bookmaker is offering it you are going to take it.

“The public might say that the gambling firms are evil, but if it wasn’t for the gambling sponsorship, then you wouldn’t have a Saturday match to go to, my friend.”


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The prevalence of gambling firms on the front of shirts is set to continue too, according to Rohsler.

“If they weren't there, what you would have to do is reduce every footballer’s salary by about a zero off the end,” he said. “Then you would suddenly find none of those foreign stars coming in, then no one would want to watch our leagues because they would be quite boring.

“Someone has to pay for that, and it is either tickets or it is broadcasting rights. And let’s face it, broadcasting rights are only valuable through subscriptions or advertising revenue or sponsorship. And from whom is that coming?

“I’ve acted for a number of different clubs, and they know that they probably can’t get much more than half a million quid from Dulux Paint or whoever else, but they can raise quite a bit of money from a gambling brand. What you find is that from a commercial point of view, gambling and sport go together, and they have both fed off each other.

“The manager of the club will say that he needs X amount of pounds for the players he wants, and the only way to get that as well as keeping the gate prices low, is to have a gambling sponsor. The gambling companies then say ‘well, we have the money if you have the inclination’, and there you have it.

“I actually think that if you banned gambling and said to all the football clubs that you are not allowed to have a shirt sponsor that has a gambling brand, and you have to find a sponsor that sells beer or paint or tyres or whatever, they would go bust."

Rohsler lets out a wry chuckle when the subject of GVC’s stated intention to step away from advertising around sport on ethical grounds arises, believing it is more likely they were annoyed about the English FA’s decision to pull the plug on a four-year contract they had with Ladbrokes just one year after signing it in 2017.


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And he contends that football’s governing bodies, such as the SPFL, should be careful not to bite the hand that feeds them.

“The FA were completely hypocritical, because they are saying on the one hand that as a governing body that they shouldn’t be associated with gambling, but on the other hand, the lower leagues are sponsored by SkyBet,” he said.

“On what basis can you kick out Ladbrokes and then allow SkyBet to sponsor the lower leagues? That’s one reason why Ladbrokes might be p****d off with football in general. They might say ‘well, if you don’t want my money, you can basically f**k off.’

“There has been quite a lot of controversy around advertising in relation to football. Under UK law, you can have advertising of betting after 9.30pm, and before 9.30pm in the areas around football matches. That was a specific concession given. Gambling operators can only get those spots because they can’t advertise at any other point of the day, so they pay heavily to have those spots at half-time and so on.

“They then get roundly criticised because of the concentration of gambling advertising around football matches, which results in the rates going up and therefore the gambling companies are paying a fortune. They are all in that period because they can’t advertise at any other time.

“Then people say it is wall-to-wall gambling, it’s far too much, when actually the concentration of gambling adverts is solely down to the fact that they can’t be anywhere else.


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“If you then say you want to stop gambling companies advertising in those breaks, they would not be competing for that 10-minute space in a football match, and the amount that Sky would be able to raise during the broadcasting of football would go down. Subsequently, the amount they will then be able to pay to football clubs in terms of broadcasting rights will also go down. So what GVC are doing is recognising that they are already so big in the industry, people already know them.

“The people who need to advertise in the gaps between football are the contender brands that are coming through, so they can stop advertising and stop spending huge amounts of money on those adverts and deploy their campaigns where they are wanted and where they are subject to less criticism as a result.

“GVC are sort of saying ‘we don’t care because we’re so big that we’d rather not fund the sport and effectively still have 25% of the UK gambling market because we are so bloody enormous.

“The gambling industry is full of very clever people. The other thing they will do is set up a responsible gambling charity, push money into it and those funds are going to be used to display perimeter advertising giving messages not to gamble too much, and they will subsequently reduce their liability for corporation tax by virtue of this charitable gift.

“It means you get your advertising out there, and then they don’t pay tax on it.”