Betting providers in the football business: betting that money doesn’t stink

Bundesliga club FSV Mainz 05 advertises a gambling provider without a German license. Why the deal with the dubious company is legal.

The Mainz player Marcus Ingvartsen horizontally just above the lawn trying a header

Always on the sleeve: Marcus Ingvartsen from Mainz advertising for a bookmaker Photo: HJS/imago

1. FSV Mainz 05 is on the way up in the Bundesliga table. After the 3-0 win at RB Leipzig, the team already had 40 points and relegation is secured. The 05ers celebrated this on social media with a photo of midfielders Dominik Kohr and Leandro Barreiro arm in arm. Clearly visible: the green and yellow logo of Mainz’ sleeve sponsor fb88, a gaming provider.

Since September 2020, Mainz 05 has been advertising the online bookmaker fb88 on the shirt sleeve – and at home games, such as this weekend against Werder Bremen, also on the advertising board. This is now common in the Bundesliga: private companies from the betting industry are currently sponsoring 16 out of 18 clubs. But the sponsor of Mainz 05 differs from the other bookmakers. The offer cannot be reached via German Internet access.

Anyone opening the page will be warned in English, Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai that access is restricted. The reason: fb88 does not have a license to legally offer gambling in Germany. From Germany it is not so easy to understand which offer Mainz 05 is advertising.

However, the lock can be bypassed. Anyone who goes to the site via a detour will be warmly welcomed by the 1. FSV Mainz 05 team. A team photo adorns the bright green fb88 website. “The official betting partner for Asia” is written underneath. Otherwise, looks anything but serious – there isn’t even an imprint. No addresses are given, instead there are stock photos of three buildings with large window fronts: one in England, one in Malta, one in the Philippines.

This is where the offices will be located. On LinkedIn, an online professional networking platform, fb88 lists its headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam. The betting provider left an inquiry as to where fb88 is based unanswered by the time of going to press.

Trust as a great good

It is obvious how much fb88 tries to present itself as a safe betting provider. Trust is a valuable asset in this business. For example, fb88 claims to have gambling licenses in several countries. For this, fb88 passed the checks of the “relevant” gaming authorities. There is no evidence for this. It is quite common for other gambling operators to list the licenses with their registration number at the bottom of the website. At fb88 there is the club logo of Mainz 05.

Since 2017, fb88 has also been active on social media platforms, mostly in Vietnamese. The company also ran a blog with news about betting. Many of these social media channels and the blog have been orphaned for a few years. The bets offered, on the other hand, are up to date. Football, boxing, cricket, e-sports, golf – the selection is large. If you want, you can also bet on the game between Mainz 05 and Werder Bremen. Accordingly, Mainz is the favorite.

But why is the Bundesliga club allowed to advertise such a provider at all? After all, according to the State Treaty on Gambling, it has been prohibited in Germany since 2021 to advertise illegal gambling offers. Among other things, gambling addiction is to be prevented. Across Germany, studies assume that there are around 1.4 million addicts. The ban has already had consequences for other Bundesliga clubs. Last year Borussia Mönchengladbach had to part with betting provider Unibet against their will because they did not have a license.

Regulated business

The federal states are not responsible for the laws regulating gambling offers in Germany, but the federal states – and they could not agree for years. For so long, the providers have been in a gray area – and so have the promotional offers for them. There is only a common regulation with the State Treaty on Gaming, which came into force on July 1, 2021.

The goals formulated there are diverse: the aim is to curb the black market, ensure the protection of minors, combat fraud and effectively prevent gamers from developing an addiction. In return, the federal states allow private providers to offer gambling if they comply with the regulations. 31 providers currently have a license for online betting in Germany.

But what about the Mainz sponsor fb88, who doesn’t have a license in Germany? When asked, the responsible joint gaming authority of the federal states (GGL) explained: Because the site cannot be reached from the German Internet, fb88 does not fall under the provisions. It is not an “unauthorized gambling offer within Germany”.

Markus Sotirianos, spokesman for the alliance against sports betting advertising, has no understanding for this: “Should this interpretation endure, it would be another example of the absurdity of the regulations and the creativity in finding legal loopholes,” he says.

Stable partnership

Mainz 05 left questions from the taz unanswered by the time of going to press. So it’s no wonder that the Bundesliga club once again emphasized the most recent contract extension with fb88 in July 2022: “The betting provider is aiming solely at the Asian market.” The partnership is going well. It also seems worthwhile for fb88. Being the sleeve sponsor of a Bundesliga club for three seasons is likely to cost hundreds of thousands of euros.

Gambling is not allowed everywhere in Asia either. In China, for example, it is banned. China correspondent Fabian Kretschmer tried to open on the Chinese Internet for the taz and landed on a Vietnamese-language site.

In other European leagues, jersey advertising for bookmakers from Asia is more widespread than in Germany. The shirts of the English Premier League say: w88, dafabet or fun88 in large letters on the chest of various clubs. Aside from the jerseys, betting providers from Asia are also present in other advertising spaces.

Even the most successful football club in the world, Real Madrid, has sponsorship agreements with betting providers from Asia, about whom little is known. They invest millions in European football – and that gives their offers seriousness, similar to the sports washing at the World Cup in Qatar.

It is no coincidence that the providers often integrate the number 8 in their name. Even if the 88 on the sleeves of Mainz 05 might make some leftists think skeptically of Nazi codes, the explanation is harmless: in Chinese, “8” sounds something like “make a lot of money”. That goes down well. Also in European football.

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