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New gambling rules jeopardise football shirt sponsorship

LONDON - The Gambling Commission is to investigate whether football shirt sponsorship deals with betting firms are encouraging children to gamble.

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Under current law it is illegal for gambling operators to target children with advertising. Presently Middlesborough, Aston Villa, Blackburn and Tottenham Hotspur all sport online gambling operator brands on their shirts, using the 888.com, 32 Red, Bet24 and Mansion logos respectively.

The new Gambling Act comes into force in September 2007 and will increase penalties to companies marketing betting brands to youngsters. The Government has expressed fears that sponsorship deals bypass current laws intended to protect children.

Sports minister Richard Caborn, who will also oversee the Gambling Act, told the House of Commons last night he was concerned that gaming companies are using shirt deals to reach young fans.

"There are some concerns about the use of sponsorship in sport and football clubs in particular, and the Gambling Commission will be consulting on this issue in the New Year with my full support," he said.

The commission will consult the football and gambling industries before making a decision on whether sponsorship can continue. Large clubs such as Manchester United, whose £70m deal with Mansion collapsed before the start of the 2006/07 season, can afford to be a little more choosy about sponsors but smaller clubs will be hit harder if gambling sponsorships are banned.

Tottenham Hotspur signed a four-year £34m with Gibraltar-based betting group Mansion in May. The club says that although player shirts display the Mansion logo, the web address is not on display to impressionable fans. However, the link to the Mansion Poker gaming site is just one click away from Tottenham Hotspur's homepage.

Tottenham was previously sponsored by Thomson Holidays. The club has commented: "We understand the Premier League is being initially consulted on this and we shall liaise with them accordingly if required."

Any ban would bring the UK into line with France, where all gaming companies need to have a special licence to advertise on sport shirts. At present only two betting companies have been awarded licences in France.

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