UK wiggle room on sports sponsorship for Asian online gambling firms

uk-gambling-commissionThe UK Gambling Commission has offered hope for online gambling operators seeking to maintain their partnerships with sports franchises without having to apply for a UK gambling license, although it suggests the ultimate determination will have to be made by the courts.

As of Oct. 1, the UK’s new Gambling (Licensing & Advertising) Act 2014 will require all companies accepting wagers from or marketing their wares to UK punters to hold a license issued by the Commission. This presents a problem for many online gambling operators currently licensed in the Isle of Man or other soon-to-be-phased-out ‘white list’ jurisdictions who also hold high profile betting partnerships with UK sports franchises, including many Premier League football teams.

Many of these white-listed companies are predominantly or even wholly Asian-facing and have little interest in serving the already saturated UK online gambling market. Their sole interest in partnering with UK football teams was to promote their brand to punters in Asia, where these teams have rabid followings.

The Commission had previously stated that it didn’t intend to issue any ‘advertising only’ licenses, insisting that it had no interest in licensing any firm that wasn’t actively doing business in the UK. This called into question the future viability of these companies’ sponsorship deals, many of which were multi-year in nature and worth a pretty penny to the clubs.

On Friday, the Commission issued the latest update to its FAQ on implementing the Gambling Act’s provisions, specifically addressing the question of whether online gambling operators that blocked UK punters from wagering would be allowed to maintain their sports betting partnerships. The Commission now says “only the courts can provide a definitive view” on the legality of such a scheme and that “the position on non-remote advertising is arguable both in terms of the law and the facts of any particular case.”

However, the Commission’s view is that “blocking technology is not 100% reliable” and sports clubs that continue to advertise firms not licensed by the Commission “will be wholly reliant on that operator having appropriate and effective measures in place to block access to British consumers.”

The Commission also expressed concern that operators not holding a UK license wouldn’t be “subject to the provisions around reporting suspicious betting activity and the general player protection framework.” The Commission believes that upholding its original advertising restrictions would provide “greater clarity to operators and the carriers of advertising as to who is and is not able to advertise.” The Commission warns that the absence of such clarity “would be more complex and costly; costs borne by the licensed industry through their fees.”