Former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton says gambling advertising in football “needs to change” because football shirts are a “backdoor way” of exposing youngsters to the industry.
Shilton, England’s most capped player, had a 45-year gambling addiction.
On Tuesday, he joined campaigners handing in a 12,000-strong petition to 10 Downing Street calling for an end to gambling sponsorship in football.
“This government needs to do something about it,” Shilton told BBC Sport.
The 71-year-old also delivered a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he feels the issue is “very close to my heart” and has written a book with his wife Steph about how he overcame his addiction and has been gamble-free for over six years.
“The law needs to change,” Shilton said. “If they don’t a lot of people like myself and others who have lost loved ones through suicide will be bitterly disappointed.
“We get more and more letters about how much gambling keeps cropping up on TV or gamblers who’ve quit getting pop-up adverts. It needs to be regulated and this government needs to do something about it.”
The government is reviewing changes to the 2005 Gambling Act, and plans to publish its findings and proposals by the end of the year.
A Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) spokesperson said: “We are absolutely committed to protecting people at risk of gambling-related harm.”
They added that the DCMS would ensure new laws “are fit for the digital age, including marketing and advertising”.
Shilton was joined by co-founders of Gambling with Lives, Charles and Liz Ritchie, whose son Jack took his own life in 2017 after struggling with gambling addiction.
“Jack is with us every time we do something like this,” Charles Ritchie said. “We know he would want this change. He loved football and he would see the damage that football is doing to his peers.”
The government said that it had already received 16,000 responses to its call for evidence and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has offered to meet Gambling with Lives “to ensure their voices are heard”.
English Football League chairman Rick Parry says a gambling sponsorship ban could cost clubs £40m a year and some clubs could go under.
He also said the EFL commissioned research suggesting there is “no evidence” advertising increases the number of problem gamblers, of which there are 245,000 in England according to a 2018 study by NHS Digital.
But Shilton said: “If you have a business model and you are reliant on money from gambling companies then there’s something wrong. There are a lot of clubs who don’t advertise gambling and they seem to survive.
“Under the surface there are a lot more people affected by gambling than we know.
“I stopped six-and-a-half years ago, and I want to get that message over to people that you can stop with the right help.”
A Betting and Gaming Council spokesperson said a whistle-to-whistle ban on TV betting commercials during live sport before the 9pm watershed “has led to a 97 per cent reduction in the amount of such ads seen by children at that time”.
It also said gambling adverts in Euro 2020 fell by more than a half compared to the 2018 world Cup while “at least 20 percent of our members’ TV and radio advertising is also safer gambling messages”.