Ethics isn’t something you often get to write about in football and, when you do, it’s typically for a bad reason. Unfortunately, that’s the case right here.
Reading have announced that their new main sponsor is to be Casumo, an online casino company based out of Malta. It’s been rumoured to be the most lucrative sponsorship deal in the club’s history; a great success from a financial standpoint. Indeed, what better way to help ease Financial Fair Play worries than to agree a multi-year contract with a wealthy backer?
If that’s all you’re concerned about, there’s no problem here. I have no qualms with anyone that isn’t particularly fussed about this topic - after all, ethical decisions are deeply subjective. One person’s source of outrage is barely noticed by another.
Because of that, this article is very probably going to come across as me just having a bit of a moan - especially for those of you who don’t mind where Reading get their money from. Going by the reaction on Twitter to news that Casumo would be our new sponsor, I’d guess that most of you will either strongly disagree with my view point, not really care, or think I’m looking for an excuse to have a whinge.
For those of you still here, my own view is that a football team promoting an online casino is unethical. I’m disappointed that Reading, which prides itself on being a family club, has gone down this road.
Gambling addiction is an absolute scourge to modern western society. Although most can have a harmless flutter every now and again, a significant number can’t. A recent study by King’s College London noted that two million people in the United Kingdom are either ‘problem gamblers’ or are at risk of becoming addicted, while the hospitalisation rate (yes, those that have to be admitted for medical care) for gambling addiction hit a record level in 2017.
Perhaps most worrying is the level of gambling addiction among young people. A total of 55,000 people aged between 11 and 16 are thought to be ‘problem gamblers’, with 70,000 being at risk of getting to that stage and 450,000 betting on a regular basis. With gambling increasingly accessible on mobile devices, laptops and the like, it’s little surprise that so many young people have become involved.
Sadly, football has played a big part. Whether it’s well-known bookies buying up the lucrative half-time advert slots during televised matches, sponsored content on the internet (which seems particularly unavoidable these days), or anything else, gambling and football have become almost inextricably linked. When football fans - including children - are so surrounded by the culture of gambling, it’s little wonder that we see statistics like the ones I cited above.
It’s by no means a new problem and certainly can’t be solved by anything Reading does or doesn’t do. After all, well over half of teams in the Sky Bet Championship are sponsored by a gambling company, not to mention Stoke City playing in the Bet365 Stadium. It’s an unavoidable issue.
But, for me, that was no excuse for Reading to ape its rivals. The attitude of ‘everyone else does it so why can’t we?’ is exactly why football is so deeply entwined with gambling in the first place. The more clubs that take money from such companies, the further down the rabbit hole we go. With the gambling industry showing no signs of getting less lucrative, this isn’t a trend that will be reversed any time soon.
Despite football’s addiction to gambling, Reading could have just said no to Casumo’s proposal. Turning down what’s bound to be good money from the casino operator would certainly have been a tough thing to do, but for my money (pun unintended for a change) it would have been the right thing to do. At a time when Doing The Right Thing is increasingly overlooked in football, going against the flow would have been refreshing.
I’d be remiss to not mention here that Reading already have their affiliations with gambling, not least the matchday Golden Gamble and betting kiosks around the stadium. I’m not keen on those either, but as places for gambling that are directly supervised by adults, the context is different.
Endorsing a casino company on your football shirt and elsewhere promotes gambling in a much broader, subtler psychological sense. It’s nigh on impossible to properly keep track of - and control - the impression that such a sponsorship has on young people and those who are most at risk of becoming addicted to gambling. Certainly, football fans are more likely to use a company that sponsors their team - otherwise the sponsorship deal wouldn’t be there in the first place.
Ethics is of course never a completely straightforward thing though, and I’m well aware of the counter-argument to what I’ve said above. You can very well make the case that bringing in as much money as possible from any sponsorship deal was the moral thing for Reading to do. More cash means more investment and, at least theoretically, a more successful club. More successful clubs hire more staff, are of bigger benefit to the community and provide more enjoyment to their fans.
We could well be sat here in a year’s time marvelling at the club’s transformation into a very good Championship side or, more conservatively, being relieved at second-tier survival. In either case, Casumo’s sponsorship money could well have played its own significant part in the form of, say, signings.
Success on the pitch, whether it’s promotion or avoiding relegation, can be worth its weight in gold to club employees and local businesses that rely on Reading doing well. Some jobs are indeed directly at risk when a team is relegated and the club as a whole loses revenue, so doing whatever is necessary to protect their livelihoods is undeniably a good thing in itself. That argument shouldn’t be sniffed at by anyone, certainly not by me. Who am I to say that the club shouldn’t do what it sees fit to safeguard the interests of those who depend on it?
And yet, I’m still deeply uncomfortable with this Casumo deal; with the fact that Reading have become yet another club to be sponsored by a company representing an industry that destroys lives. Unavoidably, the sport as a whole has a deep problem with gambling.
Call me naive or self-righteous, but I wanted Reading to be different.