Gambling reforms spell ‘disaster’ for UK sports, says Barry Hearn

Image: PA Images

Barry Hearn, Founder and Chairman of Matchroom Sport, has become the latest sports figurehead to detail concerns on the government’s approach to reforming the UK’s gambling laws.

Recognised as the UK’s biggest sports promoter for darts, snooker and boxing, Hearn stated that a ban on gambling sponsorship would be a ‘disaster for every layer of sport’, according to a report by The Daily Telegraph.

Hearn responded to media speculation that PM Boris Johnson is likely to pledge his support to a blanket ban on betting sponsorship across UK sports as the likeliest outcome of the gambling review.   

Yet, Hearn remarked that he doesn’t believe the government will introduce a ‘blanket ban’, but it ‘may well change the rules about how they promote that gambling service’.

The 72-year-old owned EFL League Two club, Leyton Orient, from 1995 to 2014 and added that the issue of problem gambling should be tackled ‘by legislation, rather than self governance’.

“It’s all very well looking at Premier League football, but there’s lots of sports – and darts and snooker are two of them – when a considerable amount of that money goes down the chain towards grass-roots, which actually saves government money,” Hearn added

“We’ve always looked to broaden our sponsorship, but the demand has been huge from gambling companies for our events.”

Hearn reflected on his struggles reviving darts and snooker from the financial doldrums of the government’s 1995 outright ban of tobacco advertising.  

“I”m never worried, because I went through the tobacco situation. Perhaps you have to accept some financial loss, but it’s more important to think what the money does.”

Hearn’s sporting events promotions company, Matchroom, has agreements in place with a handful of gambling firms. Last year, the promotions company renewed its live betting streaming rights with Stats Perform, penning a five-year extension.

Although, it was announced earlier today that the World Snooker Tour (WST), which is chaired by Hearn and broadcast on Matchroom Live, has named online car retailer Cazoo as its new sponsor.

He told SportBusiness that Matchroom was put ‘under pressure’ with regards to the ongoing 2005 Gambling Act review, and conceded that smaller tournaments may suffer from a ban on gambling sports partnerships as it is often difficult to seek out sponsors for competitions such as ‘Webber Cup Ten Pin Bowling’ or ‘The Ping Pong World Championships’.

“We’ve been discussing this for two to three years, everyone seems to be talking about it, whether it’ll be a ban or a tweak,” he said in an interview with the global intelligence service. “There’s going to be some movement.”

“Let’s hope it’s done on a common sense basis because sport generally, not just Matchroom, but many sports actually survive based on gambling sponsorship.”

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