Tiran Gunawardena

Betting in football

Tiran Gunawardena
Betting in football

Betting in football

The focus on the prevention of gambling in football has become much more prominent in recent years, with some high profile cases having been brought and prosecuted by The FA throughout this period.1 The sanctions handed down by the different Regulatory Commissions in these cases (the independent panels who hear each case and determine whether the charges brought have been proven) have varied significantly given that the Commission have wide discretion to issue sanctions ranging from a written warning/fine to a lifetime ban, depending on how serious the misconduct.

Whilst The FA have issued Sanction Guidelines which provide for suggested range of sanctions depending on the facts of each case.2 Regulatory Commissions are not bound by these and can exercise their discretion with regards to sanction where they deem it necessary. This story will examine how The FA investigates, charges and then prosecutes footballers generally under its rules and how this would be handled in relation to Paddington United’s new bad-boy signing, Mills.

As always, don't miss the footnotes --> 3 <-- which contain links to useful documents as well as additional insights.

Mills and his betting habits

Not only does Mills have a ‘party-boy’ reputation, but he is also a bit of a gambler. Back in his home town of Blackpool, he would often frequent casinos and underground poker tournaments, where he had a reputation for betting big money and being a bad loser. However, he had never really had much of an interest in betting on football or other sports and instead focused his gambling on card games where the stakes were high.

In the days following his transfer to Paddington United, Mills was blown away by the amount of betting adverts he saw on television and on billboards across the city. In his mind, he had underestimated how popular gambling seemed to be in football and couldn’t believe how many different gambling companies were promoting free bets and special offers for new members. He was also surprised to find out that Paddington’s main sponsor was the famous betting company, Bet195.

Unfortunately for Mills, his obsessive personality and inquisitive nature got the better of him and he decided to sign up for an online account with “Bet195”, who were offering great deals to new customers. He immediately placed a proportion of his signing-on fee from joining Paddington United into his betting account and started placing bets on a variety of sports across the world, such as basketball and golf.

Over the next day or so, Mills quickly built up a significant amount of profit from the bets he had placed (more out of luck than anything) and decided he would look at what football matches were coming up so that he could use the profit he had generated to place bets on the forthcoming matches.

He couldn’t believe that he could bet on football matches from all across the world at all different levels (from reserve team matches, friendly matches and even leagues he had never heard of) at just the touch of a button. However, his venture into this unknown area of football matches and teams meant that he quickly lost all of the profit (and more) that he had built up.

In just over a week, he placed a staggering 205 bets, the vast majority being on football. In a final attempt to win back some of his money, he decided he would place a bet on his new club, Paddington United, to win their opening friendly match of pre-season. At the time, Mills had only just met his new manager and teammates a handful of times, and given his personality, had struggled to build up an immediate rapport with people at the club. This immersion into life at Paddington was further complicated by the fact he was still recovering from a small hamstring tear sustained at the end of the previous season with his old club which meant he was yet to train with his new club or indeed make an appearance for them.

Despite this, Mills felt good about backing his own team to win and placed a significant bet of £10,000 for them to do so.

Paddington drew the game 1-1 after conceding a last minute penalty. Mills was furious given how much money he had lost, and decided to close his betting account.

A few weeks later, once Mills was fit and had begun training with his new teammates, he was summoned into the manager’s office at the training ground. The manager explained to him that he had just received a letter from The FA, who had been alerted to some suspicious betting activity on the Paddington match and that The FA wanted to interview him. Mills explained to his manager that he had been blown away by all the betting adverts he had seen since moving to Paddington and thought he would try his luck in opening an account.

Mills had no idea that he could not bet on football (no one had ever told him he could not nor had he received any education about it) and was shocked that The FA had written to the club. He told his manager that he had placed a large number of bets across a variety of sports, but, seeing how angry his manager was, didn’t tell him that he had also placed a bet on Paddington’s pre-season match.

The FA Betting Rules

The FA Betting Rules are set out at section E8 of The FA Handbook. Generally speaking, they cover all “Participants” .4 involved in professional football, although there are separate and more lenient rules for any individuals involved in football at a football club below Step 4 in the National League System, or at a Club in Steps 3-7 of the Women’s Football Pyramid.

The main rule is E8(1) which states that:

“A Participant shall not bet, either directly or indirectly, or instruct, permit, cause or enable any person to bet on –

(i) the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in or in connection with, a football match or competition; or

(ii) any other matter concerning or related to football anywhere in the world, including, for example and without limitation, the transfer of players, employment of managers, team selection or disciplinary matters.”

This is an extensive and broad rule and covers all aspects of football, including transfers, team selections and even the appointment/sacking of managers.

Put simply however, it means that players covered by this rule will be prohibited from betting, either directly or indirectly, on any football match, competition or football related matter that takes place anywhere in the world.

"Inside Information"
There is also a specific carve out in Rule E8(1)(b) for the concept of “inside information”:

“E8(1)(b) - Where a Participant provides to any other person any information relating to football which the Participant has obtained by virtue of his or her position within the game and which is not publicly available at that time, the Participant shall be in breach of this Rule where any of that information is used by that other person for, or in relation to, betting.”

This prohibits players from passing on any information that they are aware of due to their position in the game and which is not publicly available (i.e. an inside transfer scoop, injury crisis etc.) which is then used for betting. This would include instructing someone to place a bet on your behalf, or simply passing the information on knowing that it may well be used for betting (more on this later).

In proving such charges, the standard of proof which The FA must demonstrate is the ‘balance of probabilities’ (i.e. that on the evidence presented, it is more likely than not that the player committed the breach of the rules he/she is charged with).

Incidentally, this differs to the standard of proof set out in the FIFA Disciplinary Code, which is the higher standard of ‘comfortable satisfaction’ (which is also widely applied by panels at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in disciplinary proceedings). This standard is applied “bearing in mind the seriousness of the allegation”, and operates on a sliding scale, somewhere between the ‘balance of probabilities’ standard (as adopted by The FA) on one hand and the higher, criminal standard of ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ on the other.5

The FA interview

It is common practice for The FA to invite a player to be interviewed once The FA have been made aware of suspicious betting activity they believe is linked to that player. The FA have a specialist investigations department who, working under memorandums of cooperation with various betting companies, receive a huge amount of data and ‘tip-offs’ from the betting companies which usually prompt such investigations.

At the interview, Mills was presented with a spreadsheet setting out all of the bets he had placed on his Bet195 account. He admitted that he had placed all of the bets, including the large bet on Paddington United to win their pre-season match.

Charge Letter
A week later, Mills was summoned once more to the manager’s office who presented him with a further letter from The FA. This letter confirmed that Mills was being charged for placing bets on football under Rule E8(1)(a) and gave him 7 days to respond.6 The letter also confirmed that The FA would be making a public statement that same evening.

When a player is charged by The FA for breaches of Rule E8, they are afforded the opportunity to accept or deny the charges, and to request a personal hearing (by paying a small fee) or have the matter dealt with on paper.7

Given that he had already admitted to placing the bets at the interview with The FA, Mills responded by admitting the charges. However, given that he had been completely unaware that betting on football was prohibited, he requested a personal hearing so as to mitigate any sanction that may be coming his way. In support of his position, Mills submitted witness statements from his agent and his manager.8

Personal Hearing
Under The FA Rules, integrity cases such as this require a Regulatory Commission to be convened to hear this case. It is common practice for such Commissions to be chaired by an individual with legal expertise,9 with the two remaining Commission members also possessing relevant legal and football expertise.

If the charges against the player are found to have been proven, the Regulatory Commission must then turn to sanction. In 2015, The FA published the Sanction Guidelines which sit alongside the FA Betting Rules. These Guidelines (which make expressly clear that they are “not intended to override the discretion of Regulatory Commissions to impose such sanctions as they consider appropriate having regard to the particular facts and circumstances of a case”) set out a number of suggested sanction ranges depending on the severity of the proven charge, as well as a list of mitigating factors that should be borne in mind.

In Mills’ case, there are two relevant columns from the Sanction Guidelines. These are column 1 (“Bet placed on any aspect of any football match anywhere in the world, but not involving the Participant’s Club competitions”) which relate to the bets placed by Mills on overseas matches, and column 3 (“Bet placed on own team to win”) for the significant bet placed on Paddington to win.

Scenario 1- Bets not involving Participants’ own team
The suggested sanction for such bets is a warning/fine and no suspension. This is the case even if a player has placed a significant amount of these types of bets, albeit in exceptional circumstances the Commission may exercise their discretion to depart from the Guidelines and impose a greater sanction.

Scenario 2 – Bet placed on own team to win
The act of a player placing a bet on his own team to win is categorised more seriously under the Sanction Guidelines than simply placing a bet on matches not involving his own team. However, it is important to note that placing a bet on a player’s own team to lose is regarded even far more seriously, and can result in a sanction that may end a player’s career.

The suggested sanction range for placing a bet on a player’s own team to win is 0 – 6 months. The precise length will be determined by a full consideration of the relevant factors set out in the Sanction Guidelines.

These are:
• Overall perception of impact of bet(s) on fixture/game integrity;
• Player played or did not play;
• Number of Bets;
• Size of Bets;
• Fact and circumstances surrounding pattern of betting;
• Actual stake and amount possible to win;
• Personal Circumstances;
• Previous record – (any previous breach of betting Rules will be considered as a highly aggravating factor);
• Experience of the participant;
• Assistance to the process and acceptance of the charge.

In Mills’ case, significant weight (and mitigation) will be given to the following points in reducing his sanction:
• Mills did not play in the matches on which he placed the bet. In fact, he had neither played for Paddington United nor trained with the club (given his injury) at this point;
• He had not had any integrity training from The FA/PFA before he placed the bet;10
• Mills had no previous record for any breaches of the FA Betting Rules; and
• Mills had fully cooperated with the investigation and at the interviews, and admitted the charges at a very early opportunity.

Conversely, the following points would count against Mills:
• The large amount of money placed on bets, specifically the £10,000 bet on the Paddington United match; and
• The number of bets (205) in such a short period of time (just over a week) is significant.

Outcome of the case
Taking all of the above into account, the Regulatory Commission issued Mills with a £10,000 fine (reflecting the amount of money he bet on the Paddington United match) and a 2 month ban from all footballing activity.11 However, the Commission were swayed by the points of mitigation raised by Mills’ legal team and decided to exercise its discretion to suspend 50% of the ban.12 This meant that Mills was only required to serve a one month ban as opposed to two.

However, unfortunately for Mills given the high profile nature of betting cases in football, news about his suspension still made front page news.

Right of Appeal
Whilst the issuance of written reasons and a sanction is often the end of an integrity case, The FA Disciplinary Regulations provide for an appeal process, providing the relevant Grounds of Appeal (as set out in the Regulations) are satisfied.13It is important to note that any appeal hearing under the Regulations is not a de novo hearing (i.e. a completely new hearing with new evidence, submissions etc.) and is instead limited to a review of the original decision handed down by the first instance Regulatory Commission.

It is vital that all football players are made aware as early in their careers as possible (through proper training and education) that they are prohibited from betting on any football match, competition or football related matter that takes place anywhere in the world.

Despite The FA’s having a huge reliance on betting companies as a source of income until only very recently, the rules relating to players using these same betting companies to bet on football themselves are strict and sanctions often severe. With the intelligence available to The FA to identify and uncover breaches of the Betting Rules, the likelihood of a player getting caught is very high and it simply is not a risk worth taking.

It was a far from ideal start to Mills’ career with his new club, Paddington United, who had to make do without the player for one month. With the club’s on field hopes largely resting on Mills’ shoulders, the club will be hoping Mills can keep himself out of trouble going forward…

  1. For example, Joey Barton, Bradley Wood and Daniel Sturridge.

  2. More on this later…

  3. Pretty cool right?

  4. “Participant” - means an Affiliated Association, Competition, Club, Club Official (which for the avoidance of doubt shall include a Director), Intermediary, Player, Official, Manager, Match Official, Match Official observer, Match Official coach, Match Official mentor, Management Committee Member, member or employee of a Club and all persons who are from time to time participating in any activity sanctioned either directly or indirectly by The Association.

  5. For an overview of the FIFA Disciplinary Code 2019, see this article we wrote for Law in Sport.

  6. This is in accordance with the Non-Fast Track Regulations contained in The FA Handbook which set out details of the procedure and steps that must be complied with from this point onwards. 7 days is the standard time period for a response under clause 5, but the Judicial Services Department can depart from this if they desire.

  7. See para 6 of Non-Fast Track Regulations contained in The FA Handbook.

  8. Para 7 of the Non –Fast Track Regulations entitles him to do this.

  9. Regulation 13 – the individual must also have at least 7 year’s legal standing.

  10. The FA, in conjunction with The PFA, usually attend football clubs at the start of each season to give training on the Betting Rules. When The FA attended Paddington United to provide the training, Mills had not yet signed for the club.

  11. This will usually extend to all matches and training.

  12. Regulation 43 of the Disciplinary Regulations enables them to suspend up to 75% of it.

  13. The grounds of appeal available to The Association shall be that the body whose decision is appealed against:
    1.1 misinterpreted or failed to comply with the Rules and/or regulations of The Association relevant to its decision; and/or
    1.2 came to a decision to which no reasonable such body could have come; and/or
    1.3 imposed a penalty, award, order or sanction that was so unduly lenient as to be unreasonable.
    2 The grounds of appeal available to Participants shall be that the body whose decision is appealed against:
    2.1 failed to give that Participant a fair hearing; and/or
    2.2 misinterpreted or failed to comply with the Rules and/or
    regulations of The Association relevant to its decision; and/or 2.3 came to a decision to which no reasonable such body could have come; and/or
    2.4 imposed a penalty, award, order or sanction that was excessive.