In the statement, Newcastle say 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 battle of his life against gambling addiction”.
However, scroll further to the bottom of the home screen and you’ll also find a huge banner promoting Newcastle’s top seven corporate sponsors.
One of the seven is Fun88, the China-based online gaming provider that claims to offer “a wide range of exciting interactive gaming and gambling products.” Until this summer, Fun88 was Newcastle’s main sponsor, with its emblem appearing on the front of the club’s shirts.
A second sponsor is BetMGM, a British betting company that offers “thousands of markets in sports around the world” and is jointly owned by Entain, the company that also owns Ladbrokes and Coral, and MGM Resorts International. A third is Sportsbet.io, a relatively new entrant to the online gaming scene that describes itself as a “crypto sports betting and casino site.”
Therein lies the awkwardness of the situation Newcastle find themselves in at the moment. Over the next few days, weeks, months and, with the severity of the punishment Tonali will face, perhaps years, still to be determined, Newcastle will be desperately trying to say and do all the right things about the game-playing behavior of their star midfielder addresses addiction.
They have already pledged to help him find the treatment his agent tells him he needs to beat his addiction. Eddie Howe is a decent, sensitive human being and when he addresses the press for the first time since the Tonali story was published tomorrow morning he will no doubt highlight the risks of gambling addiction and try to express his personal support for the 23-year-old , to kick the habit that has already done so much damage to his career.
Howe’s words won’t be hollow – he’s spent a lot of time this week having in-depth conversations with Tonali and clearly feels great sympathy for the situation the player now finds himself in – but they will feel completely empty when he does against his employer’s willingness to continue taking money from gambling companies, while at the same time turning a blind eye to the social and personal harm that these same companies cause every time they encourage their customers to sign up and have fun.
Her words say one thing; Your actions do something completely different. How can they, on the one hand, offer their full support to Tonali and, on the other hand, eagerly get into bed with the companies that facilitated his demise?
“Football shirts, stadiums and broadcasts are littered with advertisements for highly addictive gambling products,” The Big Step, part of anti-gambling charity Gambling With Lives, said earlier this week in response to the Tonali situation. “If clubs and leagues continue to force young footballers to support these products, don’t be surprised if they become addicted.
“Newcastle’s partnership with three online casinos means that the next time Tonali gambles he will be surrounded by thousands of advertisements for the cause that is destroying his life.”
To be fair, the problem is not unique to Newcastle. Nicolo Zaniolo, who was interviewed alongside Tonali at the Coverciano Italian training camp last week and was also sent home by the national team following the interviews, is currently playing on loan at Aston Villa. The next time he lines up for Villa, he will wear a shirt dominated by the logo of online gambling company BK8. In our region, Middlesbrough’s main shirt sponsor is the British gambling company Unibet and another main partner is the online casino 32Red. Sunderland’s main shirt sponsor is spread betting company SpreadEx Sports.
The ties that bind English football to the gambling industry are strong and numerous. The EFL presents itself as an organization that takes its social responsibility seriously, but its main competitor is the Sky Bet Championship and it is estimated that the EFL and its clubs generate around £40 million in betting revenue each year. The FA, ostensibly the guardian of the game in this country, came under heavy criticism in 2020 when it signed a media deal that allowed betting companies to show clips of FA Cup games.
There is some change afoot. From the 2026/27 season, Premier League clubs will no longer be allowed to wear the logo of a betting company as a sponsor on the front of their shirt. However, you can still have connections with them, their logos can still be displayed on the sleeve of a shirt, and advertising can still be displayed in stadiums. The change in regulations was announced following pressure from the UK government, but does not apply to Football League clubs.
Other countries have gone much further. Serie A clubs have been barred from any betting sponsorship since the Italian government, increasingly concerned about gambling, rewrote national laws in 2019. A similar rule was introduced in Spain’s La Liga two years ago.
However, betting money is still welcomed with open arms in the Premier League. Given the potential loss of their record-breaking contract for the remainder of the season, Newcastle would do well to seriously consider their existing gambling sponsorship packages. Is the money really worth the reputational damage and legitimate accusations of hypocrisy that now accompany everything they say about Tonali?
Ultimately, however, this is something that all of football needs to address. And if it refuses to do so, it may well be time for the government to step in and cut the links between English football and gambling once and for all.