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Defender Harry Toffolo is the latest Premier League player to be charged by the Football Association (FA) over a breach of betting rules.

The Nottingham Forest full back broke FA betting rules on 375 occasions according to the governing body, between January 2014 and March 2017.

He was under contract with Norwich City at the time but was also loaned out to a handful of English Football League (EFL) clubs, including Swindon Town, Rotherham, Peterborough and Scunthorpe United.

Toffolo is alleged to have breached FA rule E8, which prohibits professional players from betting on matches or asking others to do so on their behalf.

It also bars players from sharing privileged information for betting purposes.

Toffolo and Nottingham Forest are yet to respond to the charges.

The FA has moved to clamp down on betting breaches in recent years.

In December 2020, England defender Kieran Trippier was banned from all football for 10 weeks and fined £70,000 after leaking information about his transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Atlético Madrid.

The most recent enforcement example involves another England international in Brentford striker Ivan Toney.

In May, he was banned from the sport for eight months and fined £50,000 after being found guilty of more than 200 breaches. He had even bet on his own team to lose matches.

Toney was later diagnosed with a gambling addiction. He is scheduled to return to action with Brentford in January 2024, nearly six months into the upcoming campaign.

The Beautiful Gam(bl)e

Hot on the heels of Brentford striker Ivan Toney’s eight month ban from professional football for betting offences, The Athletic this week brought us a special report on “the extent of gambling’s grip on football dressing rooms.”

In the article, Wigan Athletic centre back Steven Caulker suggested that “every club has boys playing poker in the back of a bus or plane to an away game, betting £100 or £200,” in an attempt to demonstrate how widespread gambling has become among professional footballers.

Football pros gamble often in both land-based and online casinos, Caulker said, while the article also shed light on professional footballers’ “obsession” with horse racing, open betting on football matches, and their use of gambling as a form of escape from the pressures of the job.

While a blanket ban on football betting has been in place for professional players since 2014, they are still allowed to place bets on any other sports and visit casinos.

Throughout the piece, Caulker tells of his own battle with gambling addiction, starting out visiting high street bookmakers as a teenager while at Spurs’ academy.

At the age of just 19, he went to the Sporting Chance Clinic to seek rehabilitation for his addiction, but left after a week.

“The naivety of me thought I could be cured — that is not the case,” he said. 

“When I was around 22, at QPR, I lost £250,000 in one night. The casinos told Les Ferdinand (the club’s director of football) I was gambling way out of my depth.”

The behaviour was not “just a bad habit,” he insisted, “it was life threatening.”

Caulker’s former teammate Nedum Onuoha went on to suggest that older footballers must take part of the blame for passing on harmful gambling habits to their younger colleagues, saying “they are supposed to be role models.”

Gambling can quickly become part of a club’s culture, he added, putting younger players at serious risk of harm.

And the piece does not just focus on top-flight players. Those as far down as English football’s sixth tier tell all to The Athletic about the culture of gambling surrounding the sport.

As people continue to weigh in on Toney’s betting behaviour, this article provides an important reminder that professional footballers are no less susceptible to gambling harm than anyone else.

In fact, with a culture of gambling surrounding the sport at all times, they could be at more risk than most.

A straight Schuetz-er

Gambling industry veteran Richard Schuetz penned a piece in Sports Handle this week, offering his two cents on a recent ‘hit piece’ on the sector in the New York Times.

In fact for Schuetz, the Times’ ‘Risky Wager’ serious “was no hit piece” at all, but rather an accurate reflection of the genuine anxieties which surround the industry.

Schuetz’s article opens with a heartfelt tribute to Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered on the island in 2017 after a career spent fearlessly exposing abuses of power and corruption.

Schuetz goes on to pay tribute to the variety of “brave and important” reporters and journalists working tirelessly to bring corruption and dishonesty – not least within the gambling industry – to light.

From the outing of Steve Wynn’s sexual misconduct, to the corruption taking place within regulatory bodies in various places all over the world, Schuetz proclaims that “a free press is one of the most important assets that the gaming industry has. 

“It allows the public to know and understand important details about the industry. It should be respected. Moreover, gaming is a regulated industry, and if one studies regulated industries, one will find that an engaged press is a tool to guard against regulatory capture.”

That’s why, he suggested, the New York Times’ Risky Wager series – which addressed the “newly developing betting and gaming scene in the US” – was not “indicative of a biased press putting out a hit piece on a victimised gaming industry,” as many tried to claim at the time.

Rather, “most complaints about the articles come from people who would benefit from the status quo,” and while the articles may not have been perfect, the points addressed in them continue to be of high importance to the industry, regulators, the press and the public alike.

The reality is that “many people are uncomfortable with gaming” and “generally dislike the constant barrage of advertising in new betting markets, much of it being broadcast in the presence of children,” Schuetz argues.

He says that rather than play the victim in the face of critical press coverage, it’s time for the industry to “start working to solve … [the] challenges that stand before us all.”

After all, people are right to be concerned about an industry which “moves at lightning speed,” especially in the burgeoning US market.

A better way to assuage those concerns is likely to come from working with the press, not against it.

Regulation required for Africa

Another gambling report from The Guardian this week shed a light on the “regulatory void” of lucrative African markets being “exploited” by gambling firms.

Sub-Saharan Africa, the piece argues, is “fertile ground for western companies seeking an army of new punters,” but also brings with it the potential for devastating consequences.

One such example is a mother in Malawi whose 16-year old son took his own life after being chased for outstanding debts resulting from a daily gambling habit.

Researchers from the Malawi Epidemiology and Intervention Research Unit conluded, along with the boy’s mother, that “if it weren’t for betting, he would still be alive.”

This tragic story is one result of the rapid growth of gambling seen in Malawi since 2015, the piece argues, in a situation mirrored across much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Companies there are using “exploitative practicies,” according to University of Zimbabwe lecturer Manase Chiweshe, as governments across the region are struggling to keep up with the proliferation of online gambling.

Indeed, according to a study released earlier this year by the universities of Ghana, Bath and Glasgow, gambling firms are able to take advantage of “a regulatory void surrounding online forms of gambling and the promotion of gambling products” in Africa.

Online gambling revenue across the continent is expected to almost double between 2020 and 2023, to $1.62bn, as gambling advertising has become “pervasive across all forms of media.”

Meanwhile, as much as 40% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives below the poverty line, and unemployment among young people is rife.

Gambling is therefore seen as a source of income for many looking to escape the cycle of poverty, while gambling harms and health problems go largely ignored.

To remedy the situation, tougher regulations are required across the continent as a matter of urgency.

Or better still, operators could do everything in their power to ensure they act responsibly right across the globe.

Footballers boast more disposable income than just about any other group on the planet, except for maybe Russian oligarchs and Saudi princes.

That suggests we probably shouldn’t feel sorry for them – especially when most of us are struggling to navigate a cost-of-living crisis – but I’ll confess that I sometimes do.

Their obscene wealth, combined with an extraordinary amount of spare time on their hands (training usually finishes at 2pm), means they often try to spend the boredom away.

A TikTok video reliably informs me that record-breaking goal robot Erling Haaland has forked out almost two million quid on luxury watches at the tender age of 22.

Some like to collect supercars, trainers, and tattoos, while others prefer rental properties and racehorses.

It’s their money, and they can do what they want with it – except bet.

This brings me to the news that Brentford and England hotshot Ivan Toney has been banned from the sport for eight months.

His crime? Admitting to 232 betting breaches between 2017 and 2021.

In 2014, a worldwide ban on betting on football came into force for everyone involved in the professional game, from Premier League superstars to Isthmian league groundsmen.

The reasons are simple; to protect the integrity of the sport, to prevent profiteering from insider information and to thwart match-fixing.

To keep the beautiful game beautiful, basically.

Some of the commentary surrounding Toney’s ban has sought to point out the hypocrisy of football, which has been known to grab gambling dollars wherever it can.

It does this through competition naming rights, pitchside advertising hoardings, shirt sponsorships, data collection – you name it. The list goes on.

It has sought to dial back its reliance on gambling recently, however, as demonstrated by the voluntary front-of-shirt sponsorship ban on gambling brands, which won’t begin until the the 2026/27 season.

The FA, which is domestic football’s governing body in England, has also scrapped its commercial contracts with gambling companies over the last few years.

But the saturation remains, and rightly or wrongly, it is everywhere you look on match days.

I am not the first person to point out that Toney plays for a club bankrolled by a gambling company (Smartodds) and sponsored by a gambling company (Hollywoodbets), having been promoted to the Premier League from a division named after a gambling company (Sky Bet Championship).

Still, football’s cosy relationship with betting, and Toney’s close proximity to it as a proven Premier League marksman, might not excuse his rule-breaking behaviour.

Twitter is awash with people only too happy to tell you that bartenders don’t simply jump in their cars and drink-drive after serving people alcoholic beverages all day.

Fine – fair enough. But the sheer proliferation of gambling alongside football makes it inevitable in my view that some players will at times fall foul of these rules.

“If gambling wants to maintain its lucrative relationship with the nation’s favourite sport, it should look at responsible gambling from all angles. Not just by protecting customers from gambling-related harm, but also with education, research and training programmes for professional sports people.”

Does being surrounded by advertising make you more likely to have a bet? Of course it does, that’s what marketing is, for any product in any industry.

Why do you think US operators nearly bankrupted themselves on marketing costs to acquire customers? Because the more of it there is, the harder it is to ignore.

If I was morally opposed to gambling as a leisure pursuit, (I wouldn’t be working in this industry for one), but I could turn the channel over at half-time or simply refuse to buy a replica shirt.

Professional footballers don’t have that option.

One prominent gambling commentator said that Toney “knew” he wasn’t allowed to have a bet, but went ahead and did it anyway. Again, this is an oversimplification in my view.

Most people “know” that cocaine is illegal, but plenty of people do it anyway. Some are plagued by addiction, and so choice doesn’t really factor, and sometimes it’s the same for gambling.

I am not suggesting Toney has a gambling addiction, and I don’t think that has been suggested elsewhere. But history tells us that footballers do tend to suffer badly from gambling-related harm when they have addictive personality traits.

Paul Merson is one example that springs to mind, although there are countless others.

The ex-Arsenal and Aston Villa legend suffered through many years of alcohol abuse and an expensive coke habit, but it was gambling that saw him fritter away more than £7m.

Despite winning the league with Arsenal, earning more than 20 England caps, and representing his country at a World Cup, Merson says he can barely remember his playing career. Football was a distraction. His focus was on finishing matches so that he could have another bet.

How sad is that?

I think like most issues in life, this is not a black and white one and there are strong arguments to be heard on both sides. Personal responsibility plays a massive part, as rules are rules and betting is quite rightly prohibited for Toney and his teammates. But the safeguarding of overexposed athletes is also a crucial issue, in my view.

If gambling wants to maintain its lucrative relationship with the nation’s favourite sport, it should look at responsible gambling from all angles. Not just by protecting customers from gambling-related harm, but also with education, research and training programmes for professional sports people.

There are notable examples of this already. EPIC Risk Management provides expert advice on the prevention of gambling addiction from a place of personal experience, with former professional footballer Scott Davies at the forefront as a programme facilitator.

Kindred Group’s 32Red brand temporarily replaced its front-of-shirt sponsorship with safer gambling slogans, which is a nice gesture, but could it be called anything more than that?

The government’s gambling review white paper was surprisingly light on proposals for marketing, which is bizarre as advertising is the single most emotive factor when it comes to turning the tide of public perception.

The government opted to sit on the sidelines. The league and its clubs took charge by voting for the voluntary front-of-shirt ban.

Ultimately, the gambling industry itself should have taken more responsibility on this issue.

Premier league striker Ivan Toney has been hit with an eight-month ban from football and fined £50,000 for breaching betting rules.

The Brentford FC forward and England international was charged with violations of the Football Association’s (FA) rule E8, which bans professional players from betting on games worldwide or from sharing information for betting purposes.

He was initially charged with 262 breaches that occurred between 25 February 2017, when Toney was still under contract at Newcastle United, and 23 January 2021.

However, the FA subsequently withdrew 30 of these breaches. Toney, who is the Premier League’s third top scorer this season with 20 goals, behind only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane, admitted to the remaining 232.  

The sanctions were subsequently imposed by an independent regulatory commission following a personal hearing.

Toney is only permitted to return to training with his club for the final four months of his suspension, starting from 17 September 2023.

In a statement, Toney said: “I am naturally disappointed that I will be unable to play for the next eight months.

“The written reasons for the commission’s decision have not yet been published, so I make no further comment at this point other than to thank my family and friends, Brentford FC and our fans for their continued support, through what has been a very difficult time.

“I now focus on returning to play the game I love next season,” he added.

Gambling sponsorship

Brentford FC are reportedly searching for a new non-gambling front-of-shirt sponsor amid plans to terminate their current agreement with South African bookmaker Hollywoodbets.

In April, the Premier League voted to ban gambling logos from the front of jerseys from the end of the 2026/27 season.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Brentford manager Thomas Frank highlighted the irony of Toney facing consequences for participating in a leisure activity that soccer actively promotes.

“When Ivan runs out with the name of our sponsor on his shirt, it sends mixed signals to everyone that football allows betting companies,” he said.

“There should be some rules from the Government to prevent that. There is better gambling awareness now and safe gambling but there is much to be done.

“Perhaps if I reflect on what would be a perfect world, would I rather have less money and not have betting on the front of our shirts even if it means we don’t have as good players? Maybe.

He continued: “It is ultimately about results and money and you can never be perfect but you have to have the intention to have the right values and do the right thing.”

Brentford’s owner Matthew Benham also owns betting and data analytics firm Smartodds, but there are reportedly no commercial agreements in place between the company and the football club.