LOG on to Newcastle United’s official website, and halfway down the homepage you will find a copy of the statement that was released on Wednesday afternoon confirming that the club’s record signing, Sandro Tonali, is being investigated in relation to illegal betting activity.

In that statement, Newcastle state that Tonali and his family will receive the club’s “full support” as the Italian midfielder faces what his agent, Guiseppe Rosi, described earlier this week as “the fight of his life against gambling addiction”.

Carry on scrolling towards the bottom of the home screen, however, and you will also find a huge banner promoting Newcastle’s seven major corporate sponsors.

One of the seven is Fun88, the Chinese-based online gaming operator that claims to offer “a wide variety of exciting interactive gaming and gambling products”. Until this summer, Fun88 were Newcastle’s headline sponsors, with their emblem emblazoned across the front of the club’s shirts.

A second sponsor is BetMGM, a UK betting company offering “thousands of markets on sports across the world”, jointly-owned by Entain, the company that also owns Ladbrokes and Coral, and MGM Resorts International. A third is Sportsbet.io, a relatively new arrival onto the online gaming scene that describes itself as a “crypto sports betting and casino site”.

Therein lies the awkwardness of the position in which Newcastle currently find themselves. In the next few days, weeks, months and, with the severity of the punishment set to be handed to Tonali still to be confirmed, perhaps years, Newcastle will be desperate to say and do all the right things in relation to their star midfielder’s gambling addiction.

They have already pledged to support him as he seeks the treatment his agent says he needs in order to beat his addiction. Eddie Howe is a decent, empathetic person, and when he addresses the press for the first time since the Tonali story broke tomorrow morning, he will no doubt highlight the risks of gambling addiction and issue his own personal support for the 23-year-old’s attempts to wean himself off the habit that has already done so much damage to his career.


Howe’s words will not be hollow – he has spent a lot of time this week having heart-to-heart discussions with Tonali and clearly feels a great amount of sympathy for the position in which the player now finds himself – but they will feel entirely empty when posited against his employer’s willingness to continue taking gambling companies’ money while turning a blind eye to the social and personal harms that those same companies inflict every time they encourage their customers to log on and have a flutter.

The Northern Echo: Newcastle United midfielder Sandro TonaliNewcastle United midfielder Sandro Tonali (Image: PA)

Their words say one thing; their actions do quite another. How can they offer Tonali their wholehearted support with one hand, while eagerly jumping into bed with the companies that have facilitated his downfall on the other?

“Football shirts, stadiums and broadcasts have become saturated with advertising for highly-addictive gambling products,” said The Big Step, which is part of anti-gambling charity, Gambling With Lives, earlier this week in response to the Tonali situation. “If clubs and leagues continue to force young footballers to endorse these products, do not be surprised if they become addicted.

“Newcastle’s partnership with three online casinos mean that when Tonali next plays, he’ll be surrounded by thousands of adverts for the thing that is destroying his life.”

In fairness, the issue is not unique to Newcastle. Nicolo Zaniolo, who was questioned along with Tonali at Italy’s Coverciano training base last week and who was also sent home from the national team in the wake of the interviews, currently plays on loan at Aston Villa. The next time he lines up for Villa, he will do so in a shirt dominated by the logo of online gambling firm BK8. In our region, Middlesbrough’s main shirt sponsor is UK gambling company Unibet and another of their principal partners is the online casino 32Red. Sunderland’s main shirt sponsor is spread betting company SpreadEx Sports.

The bonds that tie English football to the gambling industry are strong and plentiful. The EFL trumpets itself as an organisation that takes its social responsibilities seriously, yet its main competition is the Sky Bet Championship and it is estimated that the EFL and its clubs make around £40m of revenue each year from betting deals. The FA, supposedly the custodian of the game in this country, was heavily criticised in 2020 when it signed a media deal enabling betting companies to show clips from FA Cup matches.

A degree of change is on the way. From the 2026-27 season, Premier League clubs will no longer be able to display the logo of a betting company as their front-of-shirt sponsor. They can still have tie-ups with them though, their logos can still be displayed on a shirt sleeve and advertising can still be displayed within stadia. The change in regulations was announced in response to pressure from the UK Government, but will not apply to clubs in the Football League.

Other countries have gone much further. Serie A clubs have been banned from all betting sponsorships since the Italian Government, increasingly concerned about gambling, rewrote national laws in 2019. A similar ruling was introduced in Spain’s La Liga two years ago.

In the Premier League, however, betting money is still welcomed with open arms. Newcastle, faced with the potential loss of their club-record signing for the rest of the season, would do well to have a serious think about their existing gambling sponsorship packages. Is the money really worth the reputational damage and justified accusations of hypocrisy that will now accompany whatever they say about Tonali?

Ultimately, though, this is something football as a whole has to tackle. And if it refuses to do so, it might well be time for the Government to step in and break the links between English football and gambling once and for all.