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.

The gambling industry has rallied in defence of its practices after The New York Times published a biting critique of the sector.

The media outlet this week published four long-form articles on the emergence of regulated sports betting in the US. The first in the series was a 29-minute read entitled: Cigars, Booze, Money: How a Lobbying Blitz Made Sports Betting Ubiquitous.

One extract from the article reads: “Gambling companies and their allies deployed a bare-knuckled lobbying campaign, showering state lawmakers with money, gifts and visits from sports luminaries and at times using deceptive arguments to extract generous tax breaks and other concessions, according to a New York Times investigation.”

After being bombarded with sports betting ads, I started wondering about the explosion of sports betting.

My @nytimes colleagues & I decided to investigate.

Today, we are publishing several stories on the fastest expansion of gambling in US history. https://t.co/egjMqPncVS

— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) November 20, 2022

Lawmakers, lobbyists, real estate developers and gambling industry executives were grouped together in the piece. According to the NYT, all had a vested interest and something to gain from the rapid expansion of regulated online gambling across the US.

A second story was published under the title: Why States Were Unprepared for the Sports-Betting Onslaught, which took aim at consumer protection measures in the States and alleged that gambling companies had lured problem gamblers with free bets and bonuses.

Then came what some have described as a “hit piece” on Dave Portnoy, the controversial president of Barstool Sports, which is part owned by Penn Entertainment. The newspaper revealed that Portnoy once filed for bankruptcy after racking up $30k of gambling debts.

This is a direct quote:

“The Times provided Mr. Portnoy with detailed questions about this article. Barstool executives did not respond to repeated messages. Mr. Portnoy did not provide answers.”

Here is reality https://t.co/IIHcpY72V7 pic.twitter.com/N3Ew8JEq8Z

— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) November 20, 2022

Completing the set two days ago was a story about universities and colleges signing commercial agreements with sportsbooks. It was called: How Colleges and Sports-Betting Companies ‘Caesarized” Campus Life, calling out the Caesars Sportsbook.

The recent flurry of in-depth negative coverage has compelled some in the sector to fight back, including the American Gaming Association (AGA).

The AGA said there were “several mischaracterisations” in the Times’ recent reporting.

“The US gaming industry is one of the most heavily regulated in the country,” said the AGA in a LinkedIn post. “The federal government regulates the gaming industry like financial institutions, while thousands of dedicated professionals across legal jurisdictions set and enforce gaming regulations.

“There’s an appropriately high bar to clear to receive and retain a gaming licence and any assertion to the contrary is false.

“The industry’s commitment to responsible gaming is a core and clear differentiator for the US gaming industry against our peers globally.

“That commitment continues to permeate everything we do and evolve with new technology and our understanding of player behaviour.”

David Briggs, board member and former CEO of geolocation specialist GeoComply, also made his feelings clear on LinkedIn.

He wrote: “I have long been a fan of the NYT, however, over the years as I have had the chance to work with journalists there on stories, I have had to accept that it is not without its flaws.

“The worst flaw, that I have seen, is a dogged determination to write the story that fits the headline. And if the facts don’t match the headline, then just throw chaff in the hope that nobody notices,” he added.

Briggs’ post received 155 likes, six reposts and 27 comments, including one from Spectrum Gaming Group MD Michael Pollock, who suggested the NYT had “inaccurately and unfairly” quoted his Spectrum Gaming colleague Joe Weinert in their coverage.

The debate has continued to rumble on social media throughout the last 48 hours.

Hey @nytimes since you are coming after everyone involved in sports gambling shouldn’t you have to admit that @TheAthletic, a company you wildly overpaid for that is losing hundreds of millions of dollars, has a large sports gambling deal? Maybe investigate yourself?

— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) November 20, 2022

American radio host Clay Travis – who is also the founder of sports betting media company OutKick – pointed out that NYT subsidiary The Athletic is locked into a contract with major US operator BetMGM over an exclusive sports betting partnership.

The Athletic was sold to the NYT in January 2022 for $550m.

How do you feel about NYT’s coverage of the sector? Get in touch and let us know via news@next.io.

The Sting-dian Premier League

A unique betting operation hit the headlines in the Guardian this week, as the paper revealed Russian gangsters had orchestrated a fake “Indian Premier League” (IPL) cricket tournament in one of the most bizarre betting scams in years.

The tournament was set up on a remote farm in the western state of Gujarat, according to the article, and saw labourers and unemployed people paid 400 rupees (€4.98) per game to pretend to be top-flight cricket stars.

Using halogen lights, high-resolution cameras, computer-generated graphics, downloaded crowd noise and a fake IPL commentator, the gang was able to broadcast its bootleg tournament on YouTube and convinced Russian bettors to place their wagers via Telegram.

Naturally, the criminals running the scam would alert the game’s fake umpire, who would signal to the bowler and batsman to hit a six, a four, or get out, thus ensuring the gang always maintained the upper hand.

Commentators have said the story reminds them of classic 1973 swindle movie The Sting, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

In the end though, the scammers received a rude awakening, with local police barging into the operation to shut down play before it finished. 

What year is it? 

LimeWire is back. The bombshell return of the file-sharing platform has already been described as “one of the things that has happened this year,” and something which “has absolutely taken place.”

The ill-fated music download site beleaguered the lives of a generation of parents in the early ‘00s, as their (relatively) tech-savvy sons and daughters logged onto the service to eagerly, and illegally, download their favourite pop songs, alongside a slew of the hottest new malware and computer viruses. 

Now though, according to Adweek, the firm is set to return to our lives, after a 12-year hiatus during which increased internet speed and the proliferation of streaming left the old LimeWire more or less redundant.

Instead, we are now able to access the brand new LimeWire, which has relaunched as… Drumroll please… A music-focused NFT marketplace!

LimeWire_is_back_for_good.mp3#LimeWire returns in full power, with high-profile #NFT drops from the world’s best-selling artists.
Don’t miss out on all exclusive drops. Register now: https://t.co/4Vf39XgF7w#digitalcollectibles #web3 pic.twitter.com/pGI4oF7dur

— LimeWire (@limewire) July 7, 2022

The launch has been accompanied by a sickly sweet ad campaign, which sees young children in the mid-noughties rush home from school to illegally download the possibly explicit novelty rap song “Crank That (Soulja Boy)”. Does anyone know the accompanying dance? 

Fast forward 15 years or so (Soulja Boy’s eponymous number one hit came out in 2007) and, you guessed it, here’s the pair of school friends once again, now portrayed as fully grown digital marketing execs who are somehow, inexplicably, still listening to “Crank That (Soulja Boy)”.

But this time, it’s different. Now, the friends actually own a piece of their personal history. For they have bought a non-fungible token which denotes ownership of this particular version of “Crank That (Soulja Boy)”, I think, and somehow, that’s even better than just stealing it off the internet in 2007 on your mum’s dial-up computer.

So yes, LimeWire is back. And if at any point anyone cares, we’ll report on that too.

More Bloomin’ sponsorship talk

Tony Bloom, one of the UK’s most successful professional gamblers and gaming industry entrepreneurs, may have surprised The Athletic readers this week when he revealed that he would back a ban on football shirt sponsorships by gambling firms.

Bloom, who in addition to his business ventures in the gambling industry is also the owner and chairman of Premier League football club Brighton, told the magazine: “It’s really important to be aware of children seeing gambling or betting advertising on the shirt in particular, because they buy shirts.

“[Brighton and Hove Albion] are aware of that. We’re not against gambling or betting at all, but the advertising certainly when it comes to children we’re aware of. Although we do have some gambling advertising around, we are careful where we place it, so we are probably a bit more cautious than some other clubs,” he said.

Although his own club takes a careful approach to gambling – and indeed cryptocurrency, which sees digital exchanges advertised in partnership with many of the other teams in the Premier League – Bloom recognised that for smaller clubs in lower leagues, gambling sponsorships can be the best way to maximise income.

In the Premier League however, that may all be set to change. The league wants clubs to support phasing out shirt sponsorships in order to avoid a government-imposed blanket ban.

A vote by all 20 top-flight clubs on the matter has been delayed by the league until later this month, however, due to a government in crisis. As our lame duck of a prime minister prepares to stand down, the future of UK gambling regulation – and its impact on football – remains clear as mud.

The rise and rise of gambling prevalence in the UK

A quarter of gamblers in the UK increased the amount they played over the last year, according to research published this week by Bloomberg, while almost half of all under-35s now claim to enjoy a flutter.

The research came from the Health, Wealth and Happiness Index by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) for life insurance broker LifeSearch.

It showed that across the whole population, 32% of British citizens gamble, with the average gambler aged under 35 spending £43 per month on the activity. Looking to the bigger spenders, 22% of gamblers spend more than £75 per month, while just 8% spend upwards of £100.

Time spent gambling has also increased alongside income, with 58% of people with a household income of £100,000 a year or more saying they gamble. Of those, 45% have increased the amount they gamble over the past year.

LifeSearch CEO Debbie Kennedy expressed concern at the recorded increases, which are taking place alongside the soaring cost of living and rises in inflation.

“Most people have had to adjust their spending to cope with the soaring cost of living, with many feeling they have cut back so much that they have run out of options,” she said.

“That is perhaps why – in desperation – many are turning to gambling to find a ‘quick fix’, with younger people most at risk; under 35s are more likely to gamble in the first place, more likely to have upped their habit in the past year and spend more than other age groups.

“This is a very worrying trend because while gambling may be seen as a magic solution, it is much more likely to make a financial situation worse.”

The fall and fall of Football Index

The Athletic ran a piece on the now-infamous Football Index, which collapsed last year leaving customers out of pocket and parent company BetIndex in administration.

The piece focused on a special debate taking place among British MPs earlier this week, on the impact that Football Index’s collapse caused for their constituents.

A series of parliamentarians described harrowing stories of their constituents’ lives being ruined by the collapse, The Athletic reported, with virtual footballer ‘shares’ worth £120m losing all value in a short space of time.

While those MPs pushed for government money to be used to cover customers’ individual losses, the government representative present at the debate was intransigent on that point.

“We do not think it would be appropriate for the government to use public funds to cover losses to individuals resulting from the collapse of a gambling company,” said Nigel Huddleston MP, parliamentary under-secretary at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

MPs’ calls for compensation fell on deaf ears, with Labour MP Liz Twist explaining how one of her constituents had lost the £13,000 he was saving for a wedding, and Jessica Morden MP saying Football Index “modelled itself as an investment package, and is an utter failure of regulation by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Gambling Commission.” 

“Customers felt wrongly assured that their long-term investments in the index were secure,” she concluded.

The Gambling Commission also took its fair share of flak from MPs during the debate.

Conservative MP Aaron Bell issued the most damning indictment of the regulator, stating: “I have long experience of the Gambling Commission, and while I was in that role, it was frequently behind the curve and asleep at the wheel, which is one of the accusations levied at them regarding Football Index.”

It remains to be seen what impact Football Index’s collapse, if any, will have upon the government’s upcoming review of the 2005 Gambling Act.

The rise and fall of DAZN

Earlier this week, The Times published a deep-dive into the history of one of the most talked about potential challenger brands in the sports betting space, streaming service DAZN.

The firm, it explained, was born out of an old brand, Premium TV, which was picked up by Odessa-born business magnate Len Blavatnik for around £25m back in 2007.

A subsequent merger and public listing in the years that ensued were followed by a profit warning which sent the firm’s share price into a downward spiral, the piece explained, after which Blavatnik took the business private again at an eye-watering cost of £700m.

The idea was to create the ‘Netflix of sports’, apparently, shortly after the now-ubiquitous TV and movie streaming service had begun to gain traction in the UK market.

And thus DAZN was born, launching in Austria, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Italy in the following years.

However, the firm has run into a series of roadblocks since then. 

It recently missed out on a chance to acquire BT Sport, and the associated Champions League and Premier League streaming rights that came with it, while also being plagued with other apparent failures including a deal with Mexican boxer Saul “Canelo” Alvarez being cut short, and a streaming deal with Telecom Italia delivering smaller-than-expected revenue contributions.

Now, The Times says: “There is another, bigger shift under way – beyond just streaming. DAZN is quietly creating a broader service that will include news stories, ways to bet on sport, some content that is free to view, and e-commerce and ticketing. 

“Shay Segev arrived in 2021 from FTSE 100 gambling giant Entain in a sign of where the company was headed. It is also introducing advertising as part of this.”

The broadsheet also believes the business could be an attractive acquisition target at some point for a firm such as Disney, or could explore another listing on the public market. “Both options seem distant in the current climate,” it stated, however.

Whatever happens, let’s hope the streaming giant’s management team keep their heads in DAZN.

Calls to bury gambling ads down under

A piece from LadBible went on the offensive against gambling advertising this week, pointing out that for social media and video platform users, the ads are now “everywhere and they only seem to be getting more intense.”

The piece, bolstered by a passionate call to reduce the amount of gambling advertising seen online from an Australian Reddit user, argues that if the ubiquity of operator advertising is to continue, the ads should at least be ‘skippable’ on streaming sites such as YouTube.

The piece blamed the increase in online ads for a reported 300% increase in gambling spend in New South Wales and Victoria since the first Covid-19 related lockdown took place in Australia, and suggested internet users should have more choice over the ads they are and are not exposed to.

This is just the latest in a string of examples of people starting to become riled by the widespread nature of gambling advertising. 

And with restrictions either taking place or being considered across major key markets like the UK, Netherlands, Spain and Italy, the world’s gambling regulators are clearly turning their eye to this reaction from the public, too.

Some would suggest the time has come to curb the amount of advertising our industry puts in front of people – in any case, soon businesses may have little choice in the matter.

A token of fans’ gratitude

An investigation into sports clubs’ ‘fan tokens’ from The Athletic uncovered small print associated with the digital assets which may disappoint loyal fans – and undermine the value of the tokens themselves.

The piece, which explored the nature of digital tokens created by fan engagement firm Socios, found that many clubs offer the assets to fans under the promise the items will “never expire”, and will last “forever”.

However, the voting rights associated with the tokens – allowing fans to have a say in how their favourite club is run – will become invalid when the club’s contract with Socios expires, at which point the tokens will become nothing more than “digital collectibles” whose value is, presumably, whatever a potential buyer would be willing to pay for them.

Additionally, the value of the tokens has already seen wild fluctuation of the kind we have come to expect from cryptocurrency markets, leaving less savvy buyers open to all kinds of risk regarding the value of their collectibles.

“An Arsenal token, for example, has lost about 60 per cent of its value in the past six months, while Manchester City, PSG and Juventus tokens have plunged by around half,” the piece pointed out.

So, innocent digital memorabilia, or another pump and dump scheme being exploited by experienced traders? You decide.

God save the screen

The Independent elucidated a report from the Gambling Commission earlier this week, as it pointed out that the rate of online gambling in the UK is now at its highest ever level, with around one in four Britons taking to the internet to place bets.

“Figures released on Tuesday said 25.7% of 4,018 people aged 16 or over surveyed had gambled online in the past four weeks, up from 23.8% over the same period in the previous year and up from 18.5% in the previous five years,” the piece explained.

However, when looking at gambling across the board, some 43% of respondents said they had gambled in the prior four-week period, compared to pre-pandemic participation rates of 47% in March 2020.

The report held some good news for the land-based sector, though, with in-person gambling rates up 3% compared to last year, driven by a return to in-person bingo, sports betting, horse racing, and fruit and slot machines in land-based venues.

The UK Addiction Treatment Group (UKAT) took the statistics as further proof of the need for gambling reform in the UK.

“Online gambling in particular is dangerous as it is too easy and discreet to participate in,” said UKAT consultant treatment lead Nuno Albuquerque. 

“We join the chorus of voices who say that this country’s gambling laws are in urgent need of reform. Bigger conversations are necessary especially around affordability checks and a complete ban of gambling advertisements.

“We believe the Government’s white paper is in its final stages and we are keen to see what comes of it.”

Weather alert: Microsoft opens Gates to Blizzard

Microsoft caught our eye and, well, the eyes of the rest of the world this week, as the Wall Street Journal broke the news that the software giant had agreed to buy video game developer Activision Blizzard in a deal worth somewhere in the region of $75bn.

Xbox, Minecraft and Doom creator Microsoft said the all-cash deal would make it the world’s third-largest video gaming company by revenue, behind Riot Games owner Tencent and PlayStation creator Sony.

After adjusting for Activision’s net cash — that is to say, $7bn in debt — Microsoft said the deal is valued at $68.7bn. 

The WSJ reported that Activision’s long-time CEO Bobby Kotick is expected to leave the business after the deal closes, despite Microsoft’s claim that he would continue to serve at the helm of the business.

The deal marks Microsoft’s biggest ever acquisition by some margin, well ahead of the $26.2bn it paid for LinkedIn in 2016, its second biggest purchase, which is followed in the rankings by a $16bn deal for conversational AI specialist Nuance Communications in 2021, and the $8.5bn it paid for Skype back in 2011.

Facebook ain’t fungible: Meta to take a slice of the NFT action

According to the Financial Times, Meta-owned social media giants Facebook and Instagram are exploring plans to allow their users to make, showcase, and sell NFTs on the platforms.

Teams are currently preparing to launch a feature that will allow users to display their NFTs on their social media profiles, according to the report, while working on a prototype add-on to help users mint their own collectible tokens.

Meta has also discussed launching a marketplace to allow users to buy and sell the digital assets, too, according to the insider connections who spoke to the FT.

Apparently, Facebook’s digital currency wallet Novi, which launched as a pilot in the last quarter of last year, is likely to be central to Meta’s NFT objectives, with a lot of its supporting functionality used to power the yet-to-be-seen features.

Twitter threw its hat into the NFT ring this week too, as CoinDesk reported the platform had launched an official verification mechanism for NFT profile pictures.

By linking an Ethereum wallet, users can now have their hard-earned non-fungible profile picture appear in a “nifty new hexagonal border”, rather than the somewhat tired circular format used for old-hat, fungible profile pics.

Anyone attempting to steal your blockchain-registered asset will be easy to spot, then, as their worthless copy of the picture will appear in the classic circular shape. That’ll teach ‘em!

The ugly side of the beautiful game

The Athletic reported this week that the Football Association (FA) had opened an investigation into suspicious betting activity surrounding the award of a yellow card to an Arsenal player during a Premier League match this season.

Apparently, bookies alerted football’s governing body to unusual betting patterns after the match in question, during which a Gunner was given an official warning by the ref. It has not yet been confirmed which offence led to the booking, or for who. 

According to sources, an “unusual” amount of money was placed on the particular player being given a yellow card during the match. Helpfully, the notoriously loose-lipped FA told The Athletic: “The FA is aware of the matter in question and is looking into it.”

While it’s hard to get a word in edgeways around rambling statements like that, previous high-profile cases of so-called ‘spot betting’ have led to top-tier players being banned from professional football in the past.

In 2018, Lincoln City right-back Bradley Wood was banned from playing for six years, after he was found guilty of intentionally receiving yellow cards during the team’s FA Cup run.

This is what Xhaka was booked for on the 86th minute mark against Leeds.

Doesn’t look great… pic.twitter.com/kBm2OEXvY5

— now.arsenal (@now_arsenaI) January 19, 2022

According to speculation on Twitter, Swiss-born Granit Xhaka could be the key to solving this mystery, as users took to the social media platform to share videos of his yellow card against Leeds United on 18 December last year.

Xhaka, who is currently serving a suspension for another red card he received against Liverpool at Anfield, was booked in the 88th minute for time-wasting, despite Arsenal leading 4-1 against the West Yorkshire club. 

Sign of the Times

The New York Times broke a story about itself yesterday (6 January) as it announced it had reached an agreement to acquire online sports news outlet The Athletic in an all-cash $550m deal.

The acquisition is intended to drive the newspaper closer to its goal of 10 million subscriptions by 2025, and indeed The Athletic’s existing 1.2 million subscribers will mark a significant contribution to the paper’s current 8 million, despite the “relatively modest” overlap in readership.

NYT CEO Meredith Kopit Levien appears to have her eye on future revenue opportunities beyond the established subscription model, however, as she suggested collaboration with the gambling industry could generate greater returns somewhere down the line.

For those of us at The Athletic, it is an exciting, emotional day. We are all thrilled to join the New York Times Company. A big thank you to the subscribers who believed in us, and to our founders, Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann, who started this company only six years ago.

— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 6, 2022

“We did not buy The Athletic to build a giant betting platform, but I don’t rule out that there will be ways that we work with gambling companies over time,” she said. 

The Athletic already has a content and media partnership in place with US operator BetMGM.

With New York’s online sports betting market going live tomorrow (8 January), perhaps it is divine timing that the state’s most ubiquitous media outlet is thinking about getting in on the action.

OpenSea valuation makes waves

Credit goes to The New York Times once again for this story, which detailed how NFT marketplace OpenSea had raised $300m in new venture capital this week, bringing the business’ total valuation to an eye-watering $13.3bn — just six months after raising $100m in funding at a total valuation of $1.5bn.

The rapid ascension of the blockchain start-up follows an explosion in popularity of non-fungible assets over the last year or so, with more than $3bn worth of private investment pouring into NFT businesses throughout 2021.

The technology has not waltzed onto the scene unscathed though, with blockchain evangelists facing their fair share of criticism over the nature and credibility of the NFT mania currently sweeping the globe.

Some claim the craze is nothing more than a fad, while further concerns around security have also been raised, with one OpenSea customer claiming $2.2m worth of NFTs had been stolen from their account. 

It appears then that OpenSea may have its fair share of pirates, and although the company was able to freeze the assets and prevent them from being traded on its site, it was ultimately powerless to return them to their rightful owner.

Clock ticking on UK crypto regulation

UK-based inews.co.uk also took a closer look at the world of cryptocurrency and NFTs this week as political editor Hugo Gye reported that UK government ministers are considering a regulatory crackdown on digital investments.

MPs and campaigners have apparently called upon the government to take action over the coming months, with some suggesting crypto platforms should be considered alongside gaming products in the upcoming review of the 2005 Gambling Act.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is also keen to be involved with the process, it was reported, and will look to gain additional powers to investigate the sector.

Conservative MP Richard Holden gave his opinion on the matter. He said: “It is the Wild West, this grey area between highly leveraged financial investments on the one hand and these products which could quite easily and sensibly be considered to be gambling. There needs to be a clear differentiation there in order to protect people.”

Perhaps the UK should expect to witness a closer relationship between the government, Gambling Commission, and FCA on these matters in the near future. They don’t have a great track record of collaboration (see Football Index fiasco). 

It looks like the job of Andrew Rhodes — who The Guardian reported yesterday will be taking on the role of Gambling Commission chief executive on a permanent basis — won’t be getting any simpler any time soon.

ICE dates frozen once again

Industry magazine iGaming Business, which is owned by ICE London organiser Clarion Gaming, announced yesterday that the long-established trade show will now take place from 12 to 14 April, 2022.

Originally scheduled for its usual annual slot during the first week of February, plans for ICE and the co-located iGB Affiliate London started to melt late last year amid growing uncertainty caused by the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

A few key gaming industry shows were able to take place in 2021, not least iGaming NEXT Valletta, which clearly whet the market’s appetites to get back to face-to-face events as soon as possible. 

Under the strain of trying to welcome 700 exhibitors and upwards of 30,000 visitors to London in February, though, it seems the time-frame was too short for the ICE team to allay concerns over the Omicron variant in time for the show to go ahead in its original time slot.