Tottenham Report: Illegal betting by Premier League footballers in Italy — what lesson is yet to be learned?

October 17, 2023 11:00 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Valérie Peano
October 17, 2023 11:00 PM
  • Valérie Peano

Juventus F.C. midfielder Nicolò Fagioli and UK Premier League players Sandro Tonali (Newcastle) and Nicolò Zaniolo (Aston Villa) are implicated in a criminal investigation over illegal betting activities by the Italian Public Prosecutor in Turin which is supported by the anti-mafia & organised crime Police.

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Italian media reported that betting activities under investigation would have been undertaken on the websites and, unlicensed in Italy. Zaniolo would have placed bets on A.S. Roma when he was an A.S. Roma midfielder. Also, at least another dozen footballers would be involved, and possibly even other people who may have benefited from information. In this case, the Turin investigation could turn out to be extremely serious.

The investigation is ongoing, and the nature of the entire allegation has not yet been revealed. At the National football federation level (FIGC), a separate investigation has started.

But which are the relevant national and sport rules that may have been breached?

* At FIGC level, according to Art. 24 of the Sports Justice Code, anyone involved in the game -from the players and managers to the match officials and club staff – is prohibited from betting, either directly or indirectly, on any FIFA, UEFA or FIGC football match or competition. This clearly includes prohibition on betting on any other football-related matter, such as the transfer of players or the team selection, etc.

FIGC regulations state that any player found to have been betting on football risks a ban of at least three years, alongside a fine of at least €25,000. Also, if the liability of the club is ascertained, heavy sanctions towards it have also been defined.

Let’s be clear: the sport rule does not prohibit any other betting or gambling activities: Fagioli, Zaniolo and Tonali were and are eligible to play casino games or even to bet on other sports, such as Jannik Sinner winning the Beijing ATP 500 2023.

* Italian Criminal Law (Art. 4 of Law 401/1989) sanctions the offer, the advertising and the participation in illegal gambling – the one unlicensed by the national Gambling Authority Agenzia delle Dogane e dei Monopoli (ADM) – in whatsoever form. The offense for illegal gambling participation is punished with 3 months of imprisonment or a fine.

* 1 of the same law punishes the match-fixing (i.e. arranging in advance the result or conduct of a match or competition) with at least 2 years of imprisonment and a monetary fine. This punishment includes prohibition of accepting any bribe to improperly influence any event within a match or competition.

As of today, with the investigation in due course, some considerations can already be made.

The betting activity subject-matter of the investigation – if it was indeed carried out by the named footballers — was carried out on unlicensed websites. What for?

Unlicensed gambling websites are free from any obligation to report match-fixing and money-laundering, responsibilities which are instead carried out on ADM licensees through punters’ identity verification and gambling activity checks. Betting licensees are indeed obliged to report any suspicious betting activity on sports that they learn of, by virtue of their betting offer, to the ADM.  By the way, to avoid any potential conflict of interest, a betting licensee cannot own or manage –directly or indirectly – sports organizations or activities (except for racecourses) whose outcomes are the subject-matter of bets.

Also, unlicensed gambling websites do not benefit from the same punters’ protection measures of the ADM licensed websites in terms of responsible offer and gambling addiction prevention tools, such as the possibility to self-exclude in one click if struggling with addiction from all licensed gambling websites.

All tools that – in this current investigation – could have been considered as restrictions.

The illegal gambling offer is still widespread in Italy and capable of attracting high spending footballers who are at risk of jeopardising their careers if caught illegally betting. To be noted, in the matter in reference, FIGC already decided that Zaniolo and Tonali wouldn’t participate to the next National League matches.

Italian media reported that the national advertising ban on legal gambling benefited the illegal websites’ visibility with more than 4 million of illegal punters, 17% of the overall punters.

But what worries most here is the risk of these footballers being found guilty of match-fixing, raising doubts on the integrity of their latest performances.

On the other hand, the current measures for fighting illegal gambling contrast still appear to be weak.

The illegal betting websites mentioned in the investigation do not appear in the illegal gambling regulator’s websites October blacklist. In fact, the blacklisting tool seems not to have a robust deterrent effect.

Also, notwithstanding some legislative attempts in 2011 and in 2019, the Italian Government never implemented the blocking of payment transactions towards illegal gambling. But this could have been even useless in this case, should the bets and winnings have been made in cash, through a third person as intermediary.

For now, this story teaches us the importance of the legal playing field in betting, abiding by the rules. With the investigation moving forward, more is yet to come.