The Russian betting firm 1xBet has shut down its UK operations in the wake of Sunday Times investigation. It will be an embarrassing moment for football clubs like Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham, given that they all have deals with the betting firm that are now looking like PR gaffes. There are ties between the website and criminal activity, including allowing bets on cockfighting and advertising on sites that allow illegal streams of Premier League football matches.
1xBet obviously deny the allegations, saying that they would investigate links to partners that are advertising on illegal sites. The clubs that have deals in place with them have also been quick to deny any wrong doing, with both Liverpool and Tottenham saying that they had received assurances from 1xBet, though Chelsea declined to comment on the Times’ story. The release of the story has prompted an investigation into the firm by the Gambling Commission, as well as confirmation from FSB Technology (UK), who provide the company with a white label site, that they would be looking at the partnership.
Whilst the accusations of illegal activity and links to ‘criminal gangs’ are obviously a concern, it’s the general unethical behaviour of the company that will cause the biggest PR nightmare for the Premier League clubs that have agreed sponsorship deals with them. Indeed, the teams have been accused of helping to ‘whitewash’ the reputation of the firm at a time when it was already blacklisted by numerous regulators in different parts of the world.
It has been involved in promoting what are known as ‘pornhub casinos’, which use topless croupiers to attract punters. There have also been accusations that the company has allowed bettors to place wagers on children’s football and basketball games. Perhaps the thing clubs will be most worried about is that their logos have been featured on live streams of ‘battlecock’ cockfighting, to say nothing of the advertising on sites that allow illegal streaming of Premier League matches.
1xBet Blames ‘Marketing Partners
A spokesperson for 1xBet said that overseas marketing partners are to blame for some of the less savoury brand promotions. That includes the advertising on websites that practice piracy, saying that any partners advertising 1xBet on ‘sites which break the law’ or ‘prohibited sites’ would be immediately investigated. That might not be enough to help save the company from being kicked out of the UK betting market altogether, however.
Peter Szyszko, who is the Chief Executive of a firm in London that battles to combat intellectual property theft on behalf of private clients and governments, said that the betting firm was already ‘on the radar’ of various different law enforcement agencies around the world. He pointed out that the company has been helping to fund websites that are ‘run by criminal gangs’ in many cases, which the Gambling Commission will take a dim view of as their investigation into the matter progresses.
Ties To Football Clubs
1xBet has been a partner of Tottenham Hotspur since August 2018, which was when it became the club’s official betting partner in Africa. Spurs stars such as Harry Kane have appeared in advertisements that have been accused of fuelling a growing gambling epidemic in the region, which eventually led to Kenya suspending its betting licence. Chelsea and Liverpool, meanwhile, confirmed a tie-up with the brand in July ahead of the new Premier League season.
— 1xBet English (@1xbet_Eng) 14 August 2019
The company was active on Twitter at the start of the campaign offering tickets to Liverpool’s match against Southampton was tweeting about the the two clubs when they played each other in the Super Cup final on the 14th of August. It’s not just Premier League clubs that have signed up to a deal with the company, either. On their official Twitter account they boast about being a betting partner with Barcelona. It’s not a good look for the clubs that earn an estimated £50 million over the course of a year from sponsorship deals with betting companies.
When the Times contacted the football clubs over the issue there was a degree to which they simply washed their hands on the matter. Liverpool pointed out that all partnership deals were restricted in order to make sure that content was ‘appropriate’, whilst Spurs said that 1xBet had assured them that it offered ‘a safe environment to protect people from irresponsible gambling and addiction’. The most interesting case was Chelsea, who refused to give a comment. That the club is owned by Russian Roman Abramovich and 1xBet was founded in Russia in 2007 has not gone unnoticed in certain quarters.
What It Means For Players
The good news for players that have an account with 1xBet is that FSB Technology (UK) have confirmed that people’s account balances would be safe. 1xBet’s operation in the UK was run under a white label from FSB, which was at pains to point out that the company has always complied with UK regulatory obligations that it is presented with. As a result, as soon as the news broke, FSB replaced the website with a splash screen informing users that it is unavailable.
Given that the UK Gambling Commission has forbidden companies from advertising on video file-sharing websites since 2016, it’s little wonder that FSB are so keen to distance themselves from the company that is licensed out of Curacao and based in Cyprus. The news report from The Times comes at the same time that the BBC has released a Panorama investigation into the surge of complaints made about bookmakers to the UKGC. There were just shy of one hundred and seventy complaints made in 2013, but that has grown to over eight thousand in 2018.