UK government 'very angry' at FA deal with bookmaker - Sports Minister

LONDON (Reuters) - The English Football Association will be summoned to a meeting with the Government next week when it will be urged to reconsider a rights deal allowing an online bookmaker to show live FA Cup ties.

Soccer Football - FA Cup Final - Manchester City v Watford - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - May 18, 2019 Manchester City's Vincent Kompany lifts the trophy as they celebrate after winning the FA Cup Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Since the start of last season, betting company Bet365 has made ties available on its website or mobile app to anyone who has placed a bet or deposited money into an online account.

The deal, agreed in 2017 through third party IMG, has attracted widespread criticism and a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the FA “should reconsider” it.

MPs debated the FA’s deal in Parliament on Thursday after Labour politician Carolyn Harris tabled an urgent question.

Sports Minister Nigel Adams said the Government was “very angry” and would meet with the FA next week to urge them to “look at all options” to end the deal early.

He said the FA had confirmed it would not renew the six-year IMG deal and that the governing body had confirmed matches would be available to be viewed live on its own website from 2021.

“Sporting organisations have the freedom to benefit commercially from their products and broadcasting deals, but football authorities also have a responsibility to ensure fans are protected from the risks of problem gambling,” Adams said.

“Can I just also tell (Harris) that we are very angry as a government as well with this arrangement, especially on a weekend when the FA (supported) the very worthy Heads Together mental health campaign.

“It is fair to say that the conversation that I had this morning, they are more than embarrassed by the situation. I have been very clear that the government has asked the FA to look at all avenues to review this element of their broadcasting agreement.”

Twenty three of last weekend’s FA Cup third round ties were shown live by Bet365.

The FA announced in July 2017 it was cutting ties with gambling firms, but the IMG deal, worth a reported 3 million pounds ($4 million) per year, was already in place.

“Bet365 acquired these rights from IMG to use from the start of the 2018-19 season,” the FA said. “This deal was agreed before we made a clear decision on the FA’s relationship with gambling companies in June 2017.”

The FA ended its partnership with bookmaker Ladbrokes.

Harris said obliging people to open a gambling account or place a bet before viewing an FA Cup tie was “a bait”.

“Everything about this deal is shameful. Everything about this deal needs to be dealt with. Everything about the gambling act needs reformed,” she said.

In a statement Bet365 said there was “no obligation” on its customers to place a bet to watch a live FA Cup match and that all customers are verified to make sure they are not under 18.

“Bet365 believes that these streaming services provide added value to its customers and enable them to watch FA Cup matches that they might not otherwise have been able to see,” it said.

Bet 365s website also allows customers to watch tennis, basketball, snooker, darts, cricket and squash through its streaming service.

($1 = 0.7677 pounds)

Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar