Sports Betting Controversy in Chile Pits Soccer against State

Although Chile is still working on legislation to legalize sports betting, operators are backing soccer teams in the country. This is beginning to cause friction between its leading soccer organization and Chile’s gambling regulator.

Pablo Milad
Pablo Milad
Pablo Milad, head of Chile’s ANFP, speaks at a press conference. He is pushing for relaxed controls on sports betting if the country legalizes the activity. (Image: El Periscopio)

Bookmakers are an important player in the financing of Chilean soccer. Several now sponsor different clubs, including the University of Chile.

An investigation by the Center for Journalistic Research (CIPER, for its Spanish acronym) uncovered a link with Argentine businessman Fernando Felicevich. This relationship is forcing Chile’s National Association of Professional Soccer (ANFP, for its Spanish acronym) to come out in defense of the various relationships.

ANFP Defends Sponsorships

In the midst of the presentation of a new security plan in the ANFP and the CIPER report, Chilean soccer boss Pablo Milad acknowledges that Felicevich is a representative of some bookmakers. However, he asserts that this is a “private negotiation of the clubs” in which the ANFP does not participate.

Milad adds that, through existing laws, the organization must set boundaries on the participation of soccer sponsorships. At the same time, however, he points out that the ANFP doesn’t have to cut off the relationships.

Milad explains that “soccer is very diverse in many aspects and the representatives take the opportunity to cover all the areas that they legally can.” He feels that sports betting legalization must come no matter what, but that the current environment doesn’t preclude betting operators from backing teams.

On the presence of bookmakers in Chilean soccer, Milad states that “they are a significant support of the clubs” and that they contribute to their economic stability. In addition, he stressed that this practice is not illegal.

Milad points out something is illegal only if it breaks the law. However, there is no law or regulation that specifically prohibits these types of sponsorship arrangements.

Sponsorship Ban a Bad Idea

Later, before the Sports Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, Milad defended his position once again. In addition, he criticized the bill that seeks to limit online bookmakers, adding that it is wrong to “blame soccer for a country’s gambling.”

“If this project were approved as it is, it would force the termination of sponsorship contracts, which would generate profound damage to Chilean soccer hit by the pandemic,” said Milad. He added that the income from these sponsorship arrangements is equivalent to 7.8% of the total received by the clubs.

Instead of a ban, Milad wants to see Chile introduce smart regulations. To that end, the ANFP has prepared a proposal where sports and sports gambling can enjoy a symbiotic, non-harmful relationship.

Should Chile move forward with the ban, Milad hopes the legislation will provide a cushion. The English Premier League will likely introduce a voluntary front-of-shirt ban, but it will gradually introduce the new controls over three years. The ANFP hopes for a similar three-year rollout because of existing partnerships.

Online gambling is illegal

For his part, the head of the Legal Division of the Superintendency of Gambling Casinos, Manuel Zárate Campos, warned that “in Chile, the development of online gambling is illegal.” Therefore, in his estimation, this makes sponsorships illegal, as well.

Zárate indicated that, since 2018, his agency has sent more than 30 claims to the Public Ministry related to web platforms that operate illegal online gambling sites. At the same time, in May and September of last year, it sent to the Council of Self-Regulation and Advertising Ethics and the ANFP reports informing them about the illicit nature of the exploitation of online games in the country.

As a result, according to Zárate, the conclusion is that the law prohibits any activity that the government considers illegal. This includes the promotion and advertising of an activity.

The easiest way to put the subject to rest is to follow through with the legislation and make a decision. However, sponsorships aren’t likely to go away unless Chile specifically addresses the topic in the discussion.

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