Ads for offshore gambling companies accused of bypassing Australia’s regulations in Premier League streams

Fans of the English Premier League (EPL) in Australia are being “bombarded” with betting ads for offshore gambling companies that were supposed to be banned from pitch-side screens, owing to a loophole.

A complaint against Optus Sport was filed to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) by gambling researcher and investigative journalist Jack Kerr, who alleged that gambling ads featured in every single minute of a Premier League match between Aston Villa and Manchester City broadcast in December.

A report by The Guardian notes that Optus Sport has been broadcasting EPL games in Australia since 2016 and that the company has recently spent about AU$600 million ($389.9 million) to retain the lucrative rights until the 2027-28 season. The streaming service has more than 1 million subscribers in Australia.

In his complaint, Kerr wrote that “interactive gambling companies are one of the most frequently seen products on these pitch-side billboards” and said the clubs “typically show ads for multiple betting companies throughout a match.” However, there is nothing to indicate that gambling companies advertising their products or Premier League clubs are breaching any laws by using the loophole.

According to the report, the pitch-side advertising boards are controlled by the clubs and can be tweaked for different markets. The Interactive Gambling Act restricts offshore gambling companies from offering bets to people based in Australia and bans the promotion of their services. However, an exemption is offered if an ad is “an accidental or incidental accompaniment to the publication of other matter.”

These ads are neither incidental nor accidental,” the complaint alleges. “Their prominence clearly demonstrates this. Doubledecker digital billboards that wrap around the venue and which promote a product that Australians can access cannot be considered as ‘incidental’; they are there to grab viewers’ attention and lure them in.”

In 2022, one of the gambling companies that regularly advertised during Manchester City home games was targeted by ACMA for providing an unlicensed service to Australians. 8XBet recently signed a commercial partnership to become Manchester City’s official wagering partner in Asia.

Although 8XBet is not on the ACMA blacklist and no longer accepts Australian customers, it should still be considered a ‘prohibited interactive gambling service’ or an illegal service under the Interactive Gambling Act, as it is an online gambling service that does not have an Australian license,” the complaint said.

The Guardian report cited an ACMA spokesperson who said that the agency was “considering the information provided, including the context in which the content was alleged to have occurred.”

ACMA has previously investigated the 8XBet service and found it in breach of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001. Consequently, the 8Xbet service has withdrawn from the Australian market,” the spokesperson said.

For its part, an Optus spokesperson said that the company “complies with the relevant Australian laws in its coverage of all rights and content. Australian gambling advertising laws contain exemptions for pitch-side advertising.”

The spokesperson said: “It is standard in sports rights agreements to be required to transmit the original feeds in full, without editing, and Optus Sport’s arrangements are no different. Optus Sport is prohibited by the rights owners from replacing any pitch-side ads using virtual advertising or otherwise.”

Gambling companies are attracted to the EPL due to its immense global reach, which allows them to boost their brand recognition. The league is aired to an estimated 800 million homes across nearly 190 countries. It also has a large following in Asia, a key emerging market for online gambling.

Kerr’s complaint also featured examples including gambling company W88, which promotes itself online as “a famous online casino and sports betting destination for Australians,” despite not having a license in the country. The company’s logo is promoted at Burnley home games.

Other examples feature Parimatch and Kaiyun advertising at Chelsea home games, 6686 ads at Wolverhampton Wanderers home games, and ads from the gambling company BK8, which is an official partner of Aston Villa.

Last year, Premier League clubs agreed to terminate their match-day front-of-shirt sponsorship arrangements with gambling companies by the summer of 2026. Eight of the league’s twenty clubs have betting companies as front-of-shirt sponsors. The total value of those contracts is approximately £60 million ($75.4 million) each year. Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers wear betting-themed sleeve advertisements.