Could the Gambling Sector Turn to F1 in the Wake of Football Crackdown?

Formula 1 Driver Holding PhoneWell, this could be awkward.

For a sport that traverses the world and stops off in many countries where gambling is illegal and its advertisement outlawed, one F1 team has changed their name to reflect their new betting sector owner.

Sauber, who have raced in Formula One on-off for 30 years, have penned a long-term sponsorship deal with Stake, one of the most popular gambling sites in North America.

All of which will make life very difficult when the F1 roadshow heads to the likes of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where sports betting is strictly forbidden. It is also outlawed in Switzerland, from which Sauber operates.

What’s My Name Again?

The decision made by Sauber is rather baffling, given that they will be forced to change their name and the livery of their cars for races in countries where gambling is off-limits.

Stake is owned by a chap by the name of Eddie Craven, a 28-year-old billionaire, who also has a major shareholding in the streaming channel Kick. So, when Sauber is racing in a country where gambling is legal, they will be known as Stake F1. But when they visit nations where betting is banned, they will be referred to Team Kick – even though all the revenue goes into the pockets of the same people.

And when they visit countries where betting is banned in some areas but allowed in others, such as the United States….well, all bets are off.

The sponsorship deal will remain in place until 2026, when the team will be taken over by Audi, but in the meantime Sauber will trouser $100 million (£79 million) from the agreement – no wonder they’re happy to put up with the hassle of changing the team’s identity from one race to the next.

But the partnership is controversial in more ways than just one, with a largely cryptocurrency-orientated betting platform that utilises persuasive brand ambassadors such as the rapper Drake to promote the unregulated crypto market and gambling to an audience of youngsters. Other sporting entities, including Everton FC, Watford FC and the UFC, are sponsored by Stake.

Stake has also drawn the ire of Australians after it emerged that the company was actually based in Melbourne – rather than its registered address in the gambling industry haven of Curacao. Online casino gaming is prohibited in Australia, although Stake is allowed to operate from there as long as it doesn’t promote its services to local people.

Are Gambling Sponsors Allowed in F1?

It’s somewhat ironic that as English football begins its crackdown of gambling sponsorships in the beautiful game, F1 has gone the other way and opened the doors to betting firms instead.

There was a ban on gambling ads and sponsorship in Formula One under the stewardship of Bernie Ecclestone, who did not want the sport to be associated with an industry that he considered to be ‘seedy’.

However, that was overturned in 2018 when the sport’s new paymasters – Liberty Media – opted for a more liberal approach on that front instead. They signed a deal with Interregional Sports Group that allowed them to sell gambling sponsorships to third parties; netting £79 million in the process, which is on a par with their other commercial ventures with the likes of Rolex. A new Grand Prix race in Las Vegas has already been added to the schedule.

Firms are also allowed to advertise on trackside hoardings and on TV broadcasts, but only in host countries where gambling isn’t against the law – as is the case in as many as eight of F1’s 24 races planned for the 2024 season.

Commercial manager at F1, Sean Bratches, said of the decision: “There’s an understanding that sponsorship injects economics into the sport that improves the sport to the fan. You have to balance that with how you serve fans. This is an opportunity that serves both of those masters.”

It would be fair to say that Liberty Media has relaxed the rules on advertising in Formula One. Cigarette companies were all but barred from promoting their products in the sport in 2006, however McLaren has since signed an agreement with vape brand Vuse.

This circumnavigates the previous regulations, however, as the Vuse product does not contain tobacco. But that hasn’t stopped health authorities in some countries, including in the Netherlands ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix, from campaigning to have the car’s livery changed.