The online gambling firm Betway has been fined more than £400,000 after its marketing material was found on the children’s section of the West Ham United website, including a page where young fans were invited to colour in a teddy bear.
The Gambling Commission found Betway’s logo appeared on parts of the football club’s website aimed at children over a period of more than 18 months.
The betting company’s marketing material began appearing one month after it was fined £11.6m, a record at the time, for accepting stolen money from high-spending “VIP” customers.
Its logo continued being shown to children even after the government had launched a review of gambling laws that considered whether the industry should be allowed to sponsor football clubs.
Gambling reforms were paused indefinitely during the Conservative leadership contest and it is now thought that Liz Truss is considering scrapping it altogether as part of her government’s anti-regulation agenda.
The fine levied against Betway adds to campaigners’ concern over the extent to which gambling imagery has saturated football since Tony Blair’s Labour government liberalised gambling laws in 2005.
Betway’s logo, which linked to its website, was displayed on a West Ham United webpage offering the opportunity to print a teddy bear for children to colour in.
Inquiries also revealed a logo, also linking to Betway’s website, featured on the Young Hammers at Home webpage between 24 October and 15 November 2021.
Betway was fined £408,915 for breaching the commission’s rules that gambling advertising must be socially responsible.
However, its licence to operate will not be suspended, despite previous warnings from the commission that repeat offenders could face more severe penalties than being fined.
James Grimes leads the Big Step campaign to kick gambling advertising in football, part of the charity Gambling with Lives.
He said: “Promoting gambling on children’s pages of club websites is at best extremely callous and at worst an attempt to hook in the next generation of gamblers
“We welcome the Gambling Commission taking action but such a small fine when compared to Betway’s giant profits will not act as a deterrent.
“Until they are at genuine risk of having their licences revoked gambling companies will just see fines as a cost of business and carry on.
“This shows again that the government must step in end all gambling sponsorship in football – by continuing to promote gambling, clubs are risking the health and lives of their young fans.”
Leanne Oxley, the Gambling Commission’s director of enforcement, said: “Protecting children from gambling harm is at the heart of what we do.
“Although there is no suggestion that the operator was deliberately targeting children, or that children had been allowed to gamble, we take the breach of any rules aimed at protecting children extremely seriously.
“We note the remedial actions since taken by licensee but advise all operators to learn from this case and ensure that they take responsibility and have the correct processes in place so that websites directed at children do not include advertisements for gambling.”
A spokesperson for Betway said: “As a responsible, licensed operator, Betway has zero tolerance with marketing to under-18s. As one of the first betting operators to remove our branding from under-18s’ kit and supporter merchandise, we feel very strongly about our responsibility in this area.
“On this occasion, the Betway logo – owing to a technical error – appeared on a restricted section of the West Ham United website. As soon as we were made aware of this error, we took immediate action to get it removed.
“Nonetheless, we accept the fine and will continue to work closely with the club to ensure this does not happen again.”