A thriving fan subculture credits online games for their recovery
by Rob Lownie
Saturday’s Everton-Fulham game, where both teams’ shirts are sponsored by online bookmakers. Credit: Getty
As the Premier League restarted this weekend, fans were greeted with a familiar sight: betting commercials. Despite the agreement from the club to remove gambling company sponsorships from match day shirt fronts from 2026, this season seven of the top 20 division teams are set feature betting companies as their main sponsor.
Gambling remains a major problem in the UK. The NHS has this year doubled the number of betting-centric clinics; 138,000 Britons reported being problem gamblers, with another 1.3 million rated as “moderate risk”; more than 13.5 million use betting application. Watching Premier League matches fans will see the betting logo, on average, every 16 seconds, with half time punctuated by visions of Ray Winstone’s floating head.
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But there are also other forms of betting that occur – without the disastrous financial consequences. When the league season begins, its virtual equivalent begins too. The Fantasy Premier League, or FPL, at the time of writing, has less than nine million registered users (although it’s unclear how many of these are bots or duplicate teams) competing to score the most points from real-life goals, assists and clean sheets. This may sound like a feature of gambling, but FPL can actually be an antidote, not a catalyst, to compulsive gambling.
The online fantasy football community is vast. On social media forums like Subreddit r/FantasyPL, which boasts just over 700,000 contributors, fans discuss injuries, squad form and fixtures in great detail. But beneath the surface, there are also people who credit the game with helping them overcome, or at least manage, their former betting addiction. One user claim that the activity had “helped me reduce my gambling”, with another concurring that the FPL was “early[es] the same itch as betting used to be”, though without the potential to lose huge amounts of money. Another quote it as “one of the healthier addictions to have”.
This discussion is not limited to Reddit. At GamCare, a support website for recovering addicts, a often suggested a corrective to gambling urges is starting a fantasy football league with friends. As a hobby that can capture some of the thrills of betting, apart from the financial risk, and combine it with a social element not included in placing bets online, users cite FPL as a “deterrent” to their addiction, which can “lead [them] away from their old habits. There are Twitter accounts dedicated to providing tips on fantasy football success, some of which provide testimony outlines how the game saves them from suicidal thoughts that stem from compulsive gambling.
Inevitably, of course, the involvement of some FPL players is possible pushing them towards, instead of getting away from, gambling addiction. A BBC investigation published over the weekend highlighting the prevalence of betting promotions on popular podcasts and social media feeds based on (but apart from) FPL games. It warns that those with existing compulsive traits may not be well served by additional reasons to test their prediction skills.
However, it is striking that a BBC investigation cited several FPL players who felt that the game was “a coping mechanism to overcome existing gambling addiction”. It is not an immediate cure for what could be a serious condition but, as the thriving online community can attest, fantasy football may just be a more effective deterrent to problem gamblers than current measures which prove inadequate.
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