This Week

Everton’s new ‘crypto betting’ partner

Two years ago, when Everton swapped gambling sponsor SportPesa for car seller Cazoo, chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale admitted that “in an ideal world” the club would rather have a “different kind of sponsor” than a betting firm.

But now Everton are not living in an ideal world.

The club stayed in the Premier League last season by the skin of their teeth, are constrained by Premier League finance regulations after years of lavish spending and the sanctions placed on Alisher Usmanov have blown a hole in their finances at the same time as they are planning to build an expensive new stadium.

This week it emerged that owner Farhad Moshiri is entertaining offers to sell Everton. As things stand, this is a club that needs an injection of cash.

Enter Stake Casino, which also sponsored Watford in the Premier League last season and has renewed for next season in the Championship.

The company bills itself on social media as a “leading crypto betting platform”, raising eyebrows on Merseyside last week when Everton announced “the biggest main partnership deal in the club’s history”.

Other top-flight clubs, including Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton Wanderers, have ditched gambling sponsors this season, perhaps with an eye on anticipated new legislation clamping down on the links between gambling and football.

Everton, though, have gone the other way, signing a long-term deal worth more than £10 million a year with a company that is quite unlike others that have become ubiquitous on football shirts and in football media.


Cryptocurrency

It’s worth revisiting the page on Everton’s website called “Who are Stake.com?”

The article mentions sponsorship deals with Canadian hip-hop star Drake, various other sports teams around the world, and Premier League legend Sergio Aguero.

But the word “cryptocurrency” is not included.

Any Everton fan who looks up Stake’s own social media profiles, however, will see it clearly branded as a “crypto casino”.

 

There is also no mention of cryptocurrency if a UK-based fan tries to find out more about Stake via a search engine or internet browser.

This throws up an online gambling website offering a sportsbook, the option to bet on sports including football, a casino, and virtual games like roulette and slots.

Why is this?

Further down it says: “Stake is powered by TGP Europe Ltd of 22A Castle Street, Douglas, Isle of Man, IM1 2EZ”, a firm that is “licensed and regulated in Great Britain by the Gambling Commission”.

This is called a “white-label” arrangement by which a gambling company pays a third party to run a completely separate website for a particular territory. In Stake’s case, this blocks the crypto gambling website from viewers in the UK.

TGP is headquartered above a tiny bookmaker in the capital of the Isle of Man and also “powers” many other Premier League sponsors, an issue The Athletic has documented at length.

It is possible to place a bet from the UK on these white-label sites. But the websites visible to UK viewers are merely a means to access the UK market and are not the same gambling product being marketed to viewers watching on TV in other parts of the globe.

A tool called a virtual private network (VPN) allows you to view what a website looks like from another country.

When viewed from countries in Asia, for example, there is copious use of a word never mentioned on the UK Stake site: cryptocurrency.

“Stake.com is a worldwide leader in crypto gambling with one of the best casino and sports betting platforms for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies,” it says.

UK-based bookmakers tend not to accept crypto because the UK gambling regulator says it carries significant risks of money laundering and illegal activity.

Betting and gambling companies regulated by the UK Gambling Commission also have a responsibility to “know their customers inside-out”, which can include checking bank statements to make sure a customer is not gambling with money they do not have.

Although it is possible to place bets using payment services such as Paypal or Skrill, which convert fiat currency to cryptocurrency, gambling using cryptocurrency directly is not possible on UK websites. The Gambling Commission’s website lists various potential problems with accepting crypto as payment, such as how hard it is to “adequately assess the source of funds” and ensure “the security of funds held”.

Cryptocurrency by its very nature is decentralised and anonymous — unlike money in your bank account registered to your home address — while the price of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have nosedived in recent weeks. This means fans who may have invested in the virtual assets recently will be out of pocket.

Last year, Watford announced their deal with Stake by carrying the logo for Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency token intended as a satire but treated as a genuine investment by many. Its value has collapsed 80 per cent since that deal was announced, and is down 93 percent from its peak.

Ashley Fletcher, Watford


Watford already have Stake on their shirts (Photo: David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

But rather than as a volatile asset, when viewed from countries outside the UK, Stake promotes cryptocurrency as a means to place bets, as opposed to dollars or pounds on a conventional gambling site.

Everton, then, is now sponsored by a website with crypto gambling at its core.

On Everton’s website it says Stake “operates under the Stake.uk.com domain and under TGP Europe Limited licence issued by the Gambling Commission,” adding that Stake is “one of the world’s leading operators and biggest brands in the sports betting and gaming sectors”.


The Australian connection

The small print of the Stake website — rather than the white-label one visible in the UK — says it is “owned and operated” by Medium Rare NV, a company in Curacao, a Caribbean island that is part of the Netherlands but largely politically autonomous.

The firm says it is “authorised and regulated” by the government of Curacao. Stake’s payment agency, meanwhile, is Medium Rare Limited in Cyprus.

But an investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald last year also revealed links to Australia.

The founders of Easygo Gaming, billed as a video gaming start-up based in Melbourne, are the brains behind Stake, which has “processed tens of billions of bets on sports, slots and casino table games” according to the Herald, adding that “industry observers conservatively value the operation at $1 billion”.

Online casinos are banned in Australia. However, it is legal to operate one as long as it does not serve or advertise to Australians. The Curacao registration means there is no formal business link to Australia so they are not in breach of any laws.

The sole registered director of Easygo is James Ashley Craven. His son, Ed Craven, is its owner, and the founder of Stake.com.

A complex business structure involving multiple offshore jurisdictions enables Stake to operate legally by separating the gambling product from other areas, allowing the firm to base most staff and operations in Australia despite being unable to offer services to consumers in the country, the Herald reported.

Last year the French gambling regulator got a court order forcing internet service providers to block access to Stake.

The National Gaming Authority (ANJ) publicised the blocking of Stake specifically, because of the popularity of the site in France, where online casinos are illegal. The regulator called the firm “dangerous” in a statement.


Influential partners

Stake has a widely documented history of paying celebrity “influencers” to promote its sites on livestreaming service Twitch, a site most commonly used to watch other people playing video games.

This is especially controversial because, while websites can easily be geo-blocked, this is less straightforward for Twitch streams.

Gamers livestream gambling sessions on Twitch, often showing large wins to huge numbers of followers.

It has been widely reported that a large proportion of Twitch users are under 18, meaning children may be privy to gambling advertising.

In August 2021, Twitch announced that it would stop links and referral codes to roulette, dice games and slots on its platform to prevent harm and “scams” by “questionable gambling operators”.

Everton and Watford are far from the first Premier League clubs to sign sponsorship deals with gambling companies, while Liverpool are among the other clubs looking at cryptocurrency partners.

But what can be viewed from the UK and accessed in other countries looks very different indeed.

(Top photo: Everton Football Club)



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