The Football Association faced fury last night over the sale of FA Cup rights to a betting firm.
The six-year deal allows Bet365 to show matches on its website and mobile app. It meant most of last weekend's 32 ties were broadcast on Bet365, while only two were on free-to-air TV.
To watch the action on Bet365's site, fans had to place a wager before kick-off or open an account with a £5 deposit. Betting odds accompanied the live footage, tempting viewers to place a stake.
The close links between the governing body and betting firms make a mockery of the fact all the kick-offs were delayed by one symbolic minute to publicise a mental health campaign backed by Prince William, the FA's president. Gambling addiction has repeatedly been blamed for fuelling mental health problems.
To watch the action on Bet365's site, fans had to place a wager before kick-off or open an account with a £5 deposit
All the kick-offs were delayed by one symbolic minute to publicise a mental health campaign backed by Prince William, the FA's president
Three years ago the FA indicated it wanted to distance itself from the gambling industry by ending its £4million-a-year sponsorship from Ladbrokes. However, the agreement with Bet365 is due to run until 2024.
The mental health director of the NHS said the rights deal was an 'own goal' and an MP accused the body of 'making money off misery'.
The FA said it had agreed the streaming deal through sporting rights agency IMG in 2017 – before it re-evaluated its relationship with the betting industry.
It said it would review the betting element of the next media rights deal, which will start in 2024.
But Charles Ritchie, who set up the charity Gambling with Lives after his son killed himself following a battle with betting addiction, said: 'This shameful deal forces fans, loyally watching their team in the FA Cup, to be bombarded by the predatory marketing of addictive online gambling.
'Some will die – young men are at high risk of gambling disorder which results in mental health problems and suicide.'
Denise Coates the billionaire boss of gambling firm Bet365
The Daily Mail is demanding greater protection for viewers and gamblers alike with its Stop The Gambling Predators campaign, which has highlighted how young fans are bombarded with gambling adverts. Broadcasters have already been forced to ban gambling adverts during live games.
The FA, which receives around £30million a year of public money, set up the FA Cup in 1871, making it is the world's oldest national football competition.
Two of the weekend's 32 ties were broadcast live on BBC One and a further four on BT Sport, a pay-to-view channel costing around £30 a month.
These six matches and all the other fixtures – except the ten that kicked off at 3.01pm on Saturday – were live on Bet365, including Liverpool versus Everton and Arsenal versus Leeds.
Bet365 heavily promoted the matches on social media, offering tips on potential 'cupsets'. During the broadcasts, viewers were offered the odds on every type of outcome, such as total goals.
Fans at the delayed matches were shown a 60-second film narrated by Prince William – who has no oversight or involvement in the commercial aspects of the FA. He said: 'In life, as in football, we all go through highs and lows.
'We can all sometimes feel anxious or stressed. At moments even the little things can seem a struggle.'
As part of its deal with the FA, IMG is allowed to sell live footage from its cup matches to bookmakers and betting firms. It was reported that the agreement was worth £750million, although this also covered global media rights.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris called on the FA to break the arrangement. She said: 'If the FA had any moral compass they wouldn't have done the deal in the first place, now they must scrap it immediately to salvage what is left of their reputation.
Betting odds accompanied the live footage, tempting viewers to place a stake
'Football fans are going to open a Bet365 account to watch games, they are effectively being groomed into a culture of gambling with tragic consequences including mental illness and suicide.'
Football has come under heavy fire for its relationship with betting firms. This season 27 of England's top 44 clubs have a gambling company as their shirt sponsor.
Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for the NHS, said the sport must rethink its relationship with the betting industry.
She added: 'This is another own goal from the gambling industry. Bet to view is simply wrong and needs to stop. It is no wonder that – with tactics like these – more people are seeking help for gambling problems on the NHS.'
Tracey Crouch, a Tory former minister for sport, said: 'Given the current challenges of regulating online gambling it will inevitably expose vulnerable people, including children, to gambling – something that can lead to long-term problems for society. I hope they reconsider this decision.'
The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said: 'It's extraordinary that football bosses are allowing bookies to carry out this wholesale 'gamblification' of our national sport.
'Football bosses will have to explain themselves, not least to parents and young people.
'Advertising and promoting gambling is widely understood to be linked with levels of gambling-related harm which are damaging public health at unprecedented levels. Promoting this harm must not be the fate for the national, beautiful, game.'
An FA spokesman said last night: 'The FA agreed a media rights deal with IMG in early 2017, part of which permits them to sell the right to show live footage or clips of FA Cup matches to bookmakers. Bet365 acquired these rights from IMG to use from the start of the 2018/19 season.
'This deal was agreed before we made a clear decision on the FA's relationship with gambling companies in June 2017 when we ended our partnership with Ladbrokes. We will review this element of the media rights sales process ahead of tendering rights to the new cycle from the 2024/25 season onwards. Leagues and clubs continue to govern their own relationships with gambling companies.'
An undercover Daily Mail investigation exposed the tactics used by Bet365 to keep big losers gambling. From customer bonuses that 'reward loyalty' to cash incentives for those racking up big losses, last year's probe showed how high rollers are lavished with a dizzying array of perks.
The three-week investigation found that customers who hit a 'net loss threshold' can be turned into VIPs and given 'incentives', such as the chance to win FA Cup Final tickets.
Bet365's success has turned Denise Coates into Britain's highest-paid boss with a salary of £323million a year. Her firm declined to comment last night.
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For ardent football fans such as myself, the third round of the FA Cup holds a special magic. It allows the lowliest teams to test their mettle against the Premier League giants – and, just occasionally, triumph against all odds.
Browsing through the fixture list last weekend as I decided which of the 32 matches to watch on TV, I was puzzled by the scheduled kick-off times.
Each had been delayed by 60 seconds, so that – for example – a game that ought