Does it matter more when there’s money on it?

By Will Wilson

Money

If you were to have a look around the internet right now, you could take advantage of some very interesting odds.

6/1 for the England football team to win the 2010 World Cup; 10/1 for the England cricket team to win the Champions Trophy; and even 40-1 on Englishman Cormac Murphy O’Connor to be the next Pope.

I am not recommending these bets to you (especially not the cricket one), but it leads me to this shocking fact: if you lived in France, Portugal, Norway, the Netherlands and many other parts of Europe, a cheeky bet on your team for the World Cup could land you in prison.

Online sports betting is banned in many European countries, and in large parts of the continent ‘fixed odds’ betting (as above) is not practised – pool betting is the norm. Why? Because most of these countries have government-run lotteries which have a monopoly over betting games. These lotteries give a percentage of their profits to grassroots sports, and they fear that private gambling companies would not be so generous – so they shut them out of the market.

On 8th September, Europe’s highest court, the European Court of Justice ruled that Austrian betting company Bwin was not allowed to sponsor the Portuguese Football League. This was because the Portuguese state lottery – Santa Casa – is the only gambling provider allowed to advertise in public in Portugal.

Bwin is a major player in the sports sponsorship market – they brand Real Madrid and AC Milan, and are rumoured to be a front-runner to sponsor the FA Cup as well.

This court case is thought to have cost Portuguese clubs around half-a-million Euros in lost sponsorship cash, and probably cost Bwin more than that in legal fees.

Because of these restrictive rules, if AC Milan play in Porto, they won’t be allowed to wear their shirts bearing the Bwin logo – neither will Real Madrid if they play Bayern Munich, and if Wolves (sponsored by SportingBet) stun us all and get into Europe next season, their shirts will need to be sponsor-free for any ties in Norway or Netherlands.

Contrast this with the Premier League; as well as Wolves, the clubs backed by online gamblers include West Ham, Bolton, Wigan and Hull City. Add to that Bwin’s possible FA Cup sponsorship, and the huge advertising revenue from the ubiquitous bet365, SkyBet and Betfair, and it’s clear that the UK’s open gambling market is a cash cow for football clubs.

Europeans will tell you it comes at a price – their state lotteries invest more money in grassroots sport; whereas our private gamblers only help to pay the wage bills of the top clubs. That may be a worthy argument, but it’s unlikely that UEFA will let Lisbon or Paris host a Champions League final if it meant that possible finalists AC Milan and Real Madrid would both be forced to wear blank shirts. No such problems at Wembley in 2011.

So the next time you place a bet on the time of the first yellow card, or how many runs Ravi Bopara won’t score, remember that not all sports fans in Europe get to revel in such frivolity.

Some have to be content merely with watching the game.

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