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FOOTBALL FEARS AS ONLINE GAMBLING RESTRICTIONS LOOM IN POLAND
11/30/09 - The imminent release of the first draft of the Polish government's proposed measures to restrict online gambling activity in the country has attracted international attention as gamblers, Internet freedom advocates and online gambling companies consider the consequences.
Last week President Lech Kaczynski signed into law draconian and controversial land gambling controls restricting gambling to casinos and the numbers of gaming machines permitted, and the concern is that online gambling will receive similar treatment, with rumours of ISP blocks and censorship systems.
Among those watching the government's moves will be the Polish football industry, which has lucrative sponsorship deals with major Internet gambling groups, reports the Wall Street Journal.
"Gambling-related marketing and advertising has also been outlawed under the new [land gambling] legislation, and though sponsorship deals between sports teams and e-gaming companies have escaped the current ban, these agreements would be forbidden under the latest raft of proposals [to control Internet gambling]", the publication claims.
The prospect of a ban on Internet gambling sponsorships has alarmed some of the country's leading sports teams, but representatives of football teams and gambling companies wouldn't speak on the record to the WSJ concerning the legislative developments.
Nevertheless, the Journal claims that roughly 50 million Polish zloties ($18.2 million) are channelled into Polish sport each year by e-gaming companies, including Unibet's $4 million-a-season title sponsorship of 1 Liga, the second tier of Polish football.
The publication also reports that Internet gambling operators Bet-At-Home and BetClick have shirt-sponsorship deals with leading football clubs Wisla Krakow and Lech Poznan respectively, but their $3 million-a-year agreements could be illegal under the draft provisions.
"Such a development would represent a crippling blow to the finances of those teams and undermine attempts by Polish clubs to compete on the European stage. No Polish club has reached the group stages of the Champions League since Widzew Lodz in 1996," the article points out.
"This threat to online gambling sponsorships will certainly be watched by the rest of Europe," the Wall Street Journal article continues.
"Austrian operator Bwin's landmark deals with two of the continent's biggest clubs, AC Milan and Real Madrid - the latter worth up to GBP18 million a year - are two high-profile examples of e-gaming sponsorship agreements, while more than a third of clubs in England's Premier League now have shirt-sponsorship contracts with online betting companies."
This sponsorship trend is likely to continue into newly liberalised gambling markets like Italy,France and Denmark the report concludes, but what the sports sponsorship industry fears is a ban on the practice.
The forthcoming ratification of the Lisbon Treaty only increases the likelihood of a ban on sponsorships, according to Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports-business strategy and marketing at Coventry University in the U.K.
"This is not just an issue in Poland," says Chadwick. "The debate about online gambling could be significant across Europe, and my view is that the clock is ticking on online gambling sponsorships.
"We've seen the banning of tobacco sponsorships, there's now discussion over the banning of alcohol sponsorships, and gambling may also be banned in the coming years because there is a general consensus that socially undesirable sponsorships should not be allowed.
"The Lisbon Treaty doesn't specifically mention online gambling but allowing such sponsorships to continue would be at odds with the prevailing ethos of the sport competence [aspect of the treaty], which is about leading healthy lifestyles," he said.
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