Catch 22 Why the Daniel Sturridge case highlights bookmakers precarious dilemma
Picture the scene: a thief walks out of a bank carrying millions. Police officers rush to the front entrance. "Hands up!" they yell.
Except they aren’t talking to the thief; they’re talking to the bank manager.
Only in a Quentin Tarantino movie would such a ridiculous scenario not feel completely out of place. Why would a bank be penalised for someone robbing it? A suspect has committed a crime and, apart from holding the money which was taken, the bank hasn’t done anything wrong.
But, as the reaction to the recent Daniel Sturridge case proves, that logic doesn’t seem to be applied when people react to the gambling industry.
The Liverpool striker is currently under investigation by the Football Association (FA) in the UK for breaching its betting rules, after it was alleged his cousin placed a wager on Sturridge joining a new team. The specifics of the case are still under investigation and therefore not for Gambling Insider to comment on.
Certain media arguments, however, have somehow reached the conclusion those at fault here are the bookmakers themselves. Their crime? Offering a market for customers to bet on player transfers.
This is not the first time the gambling industry has been criticised after fairly reporting wrongdoing to the FA. In 2017, footballer Joey Barton was banned from all footballing activities for 18 months (this sentence was later reduced), following a bookmaker reporting his betting activity to the FA. That activity included betting on himself to score first during a game and backing his team to win a match. His response was one of deflection, blaming a culture of gambling within the UK and suggesting there was too much betting advertising on television.
The FA subsequently terminated all sponsorship ties with Ladbrokes.
This time around, it was reportedly Paddy Power that informed English football’s governing body of unaccepted wagers in the Sturridge case. So, given the fact bookmakers stood to make money from both incidents but still chose the appropriate route of reporting them, what exactly have they done wrong?
There have been suggestions operators only have themselves to blame by creating markets liable to being taken advantage of. These suggestions, for some, lead to the conclusion these markets should be closed.
Common sense can rule that conclusion out. Insider trading happens on the stock market all the time. Should all stock exchanges therefore be closed?
Betting on player transfers is no different than betting on any other market. In a sports betting sector where companies are sometimes accused of lacking innovation, this is a relatively new product which adds value, provides casual entertainment and ultimately increases an operator’s margins due to the uncertain nature of transfer deals.
The above description is the textbook definition of a successful new product. That product being successful is not justification for it to be stopped; nor is attempted exploitation of that product.
Just as a bank shouldn’t be penalised for being robbed, gambling operators should not be penalised for anyone trying to beat the system. Malpractice should always be punished – but it always is in the betting industry. Daub Alderney, part of Stride Gaming Group, was recently fined £7m ($9m) by the Gambling Commission for failing to prevent money laundering and to protect vulnerable customers. Paddy Power Betfair was fined £2.2m last month for similar offences. The list goes on.
Being punished for the wrongdoings of others, however, should never be acceptable. Just like the FA’s recent calls for a “fair return” tax on all football betting revenue, there is a common theme developing of society thinking one rule applies to all other industries and doesn’t for gambling. In many ways, it is a Catch 22 situation for operators trying to do the right thing.
The gambling industry’s image has suffered in the UK and, often, it has been the result of self-inflicted wounds. So many good-will initiatives from gambling companies, though, go under-reported. While politicians endlessly debated fixed-odds betting terminals, the gambling industry held Responsible Gaming Week. In the US, Scientific Games recently donated $25,000 to farmers in Georgia to help them recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Michael. The same people who call for an end to transfer betting would probably find a way to spin these stories into bad press.
Summing the situation up, Letou CEO Paul Fox previously told the November/December edition of the Gambling Insider magazine: "When sponsoring Swansea City, we gave our entire allocation of corporate hospitality to the homeless charity shelter. We also gave season tickets to Disability Wales.
"Gambling companies are almost demonised in the UK but there are a lot of companies doing positive things trying to give back to charities and local communities. The problem you have is in the mainstream media. No matter what an operator, does, it’s always going to be negative. If there was a gambling company that was doing something positive, they just wouldn’t cover it as it doesn’t fit the narrative."
With both the Barton and Sturridge cases, we have two iron-clad examples of operators following the appropriate channels and doing the right thing. Yet, in both instances, they have been used as a stick by mainstream media to beat betting companies with.
The bookies have done nothing wrong here. Just like that bank manager.