Isthmian League Chairman Q & A: We would work with a betting sponsor again

By Tim Poole

Following news of BetVictor ending its sponsorship of non-league football, Gambling Insider caught up with Isthmian League Chairman Nick Robinson, who had previously declared his disappointment at the decision.

Although Robinson acknowledges the call could now leave the Isthmian League without a sponsor for the first time since 1974 (with the search for a new partner hindered by the coronavirus pandemic), he insists BetVictor treated the league "very well."

Despite the operator suggesting "negativity towards betting in football" was a factor in pulling the sponsorship, Robinson also says the Isthmian League would be open to working with a bookmaker again. As long as compliance demands were clearly stated in advance.

Can you tell us any more about why the deal was ended?

We were asked to attend a meeting at the beginning of March, which we did. BetVictor said "very sorry, decision’s been taken, we are going to activate the break notice." In fairness, they are a big organisation and I’ve got to say they’ve treated us very well.

They’re a very good company and we were very pleased to be associated with them. They treat their compliance and their regulatory matters very seriously. We were very happy to be connected with them.

We were very disappointed that we didn’t have a chance to show what we could do in the second year, because there was actually an option for a third year.

What position does this leave the Isthmian League in?

We’re in a position that was reasonably foreseeable when we signed the contract. We knew it was one year then they could break, even though it could have been three. We’ve got one year; they’ve treated us well in that one year and now we have to move on and look for another sponsor.

The disappointment, which they can’t be blamed for as they made the decision in advance, is the effect of the coronavirus. We’re now in the fourth week of lockdown and the likelihood of someone coming in and saying "we’d like to take over from BetVictor" is quite scarce. We could now end up without a sponsor next year, which would be the first time since 1974.

What are the chances of your next sponsor being another betting company?

I think the betting industry sees football as a good pool to swim in. Examples can be found with Sky Bet and the Football League and up in Scotland. Clearly, there is an attraction for the industry. If a bookmaker came along and looked to replace BetVictor, we would look at it, of course we would.

We’ve learned things. I think we would want to say "what compliance have we got to jump through? We want to work with you on that compliance so let’s get it done before we go into this." We understand it’s a regulated industry – I’m a lawyer by profession, I work in a regulated industry, so I understand all those things.

That’s the way we would work with another bookmaker. That’s no disrespect to the industry, that’s just us saying the industry needs to tell us what they want so we can tell our clubs.

What is your take on BetVictor referencing compliance breaches, and a negativity towards betting in football, as factors in its eventual decision?

There has been [negativity]. The FA dropped Ladbrokes as its betting partner and there are charities around we all know – GambleAware, When the Fun Stops Stop. All these are there because people become addicted. We want to ensure we’re on the right side of that too. We don’t want to be seen as taking advantage of situations just for money.

Smoking and alcohol are other industries with a downside to it, so all these things have to be weighed up. But betting does serve a purpose – without the Grand National, people missed placing their bets on horses this year.

Because people see it as a money-making opportunity, we have examples of match fixing and none of our participants are allowed to bet on football anywhere in the world, it’s a blanket ban. We’ve had examples of this come up and the Football Association has handled it. But I don’t know what else you can do apart from tell someone ‘don’t bet.’ I understand how the industry works with our sport and it can be a good partnership.

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