Follow The Money:  A (Brief) Look at the Phantom Gambling Companies Sponsoring Premier League Teams

Burnley F.C., sponsored by Asian betting platform, LoveBet. Photo courtesy of Sky News.

Money talks, and in the case of gambling platforms sponsoring at least eight English Premier League teams, with deafening silence. It’s something even the most seasoned EPL watcher overlooks, but focus in a little and you’ll notice the ubiquity of betting platform logos on player shirts and billboards. Thankfully, one intrepid journalist – Philipe Auclair of Josimar – dug deep into the murky and anonymous world of online betting platforms and how they came to operate in the most popular soccer league in the world

Now, let’s take a brief look at what Auclair found during his more than 18 months researching and writing his exposé. To start, he writes, “Industry insiders believe the [unregulated] worldwide online sports betting market (which operates mostly from Eastern Asia, which accounts for an estimated 80% of their activity) to be worth 1 trillion US dollars in terms of bets placed”. For many Asian countries, gambling is illegal, but the online betting platforms know there is demand. So the question becomes, how can they tap into that Asian market without poking the beehive of regulators? Well, the most-watched soccer league in the world seems like a pretty good bet. This is where so-called “white label” intermediaries come into play.

In the Isle of Man – a tax haven and self-governed Crown Dependency which draws its own laws –  TGP Europe Ltd. is the primary white label agent for access to the British sporting world. On behalf of Asian betting groups, TGP will submit paperwork and do the necessary dotting of I’s and crossing of T’s to obtain a UK license, and all for a negligible processing fee. Then it’s a matter of getting teams to emblazon their uniforms with the betting group’s logo. Sponsorship fees are believed to be around 3.5 – 10 million euros per season, making it a difficult offer for some lower Premier League (and Championship) teams to pass up. 

So far, the story seems corporate, but not necessarily nefarious. However, add on the fact that these online betting sites put no limits on wager amounts – unlike regulated British and other legal betting services – and that the identities of the company’s stakeholders are unknown and the narrative takes a Bond-ian turn.

But according to Manx (Isle of Man) authorities, it’s all good! Auclair writes, “As stated on the Manx government website, under the stipulations of the Beneficial Ownership Act 2017, ‘sometimes the actual or beneficial owner will appoint a nominee to hold the shares in their name. This is entirely legal and may be simply a personal preference for not wanting others to be aware of the owner’s investment decisions’”. Any time an investor wants their presence to remain anonymous, it’s going to raise some eyebrows – however, when said investor has credible links to illicit gambling rings and criminal syndicates in the Philippines and elsewhere, those in power need to start asking more questions. 

With that in mind, you may be wondering who has the power to enact any sort of meaningful change with regard to the presence of “white label” intermediaries. According to Auclair, the responsibility does not lay with the Premier League, but instead with the British Gambling Commission – though it seems nothing will change anytime soon. And yet, maybe news of newly-promoted Norwich City severing ties with BK8 – one of many obscure Asian gambling brands – can provide a glimmer of hope.

Please take some time to read Phillippe Auclair’s full, in-depth article (link above). It’s well worth it.        

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