Michael Owen used his Twitter account to promote an unlicensed cryptocurrency casino to the British public, in breach of UK laws regarding gambling advertising.
He has also been instructed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to delete a promotion for a controversial non-fungible token scheme for breaching rules about advertising cryptocurrency products.
On May 16, Owen published two tweets advertising “Punt Casino” which is registered in the Caribbean island of Curacao but has no UK licence.
Under UK law, only betting firms licensed by the UK Gambling Commission can legally be advertised to UK consumers.
After The Athletic made enquiries, the tweets were deleted and the Punt Casino website was “geo-blocked” for UK users.
“Punt Casino is a fully licensed Curacao casino operating under the rules and regulations associated with that license,” a spokesperson said. “We do not target or promote our casino to customers of any countries and/or jurisdictions not allowed by such license.”
Separately, The Athletic can reveal that Owen has been instructed by the ASA to remove a tweet advertising non-fungible tokens (NFT) which attracted controversy by claiming to be “the first-ever (NFTs) that can’t lose their initial value”.
What is Punt Casino?
In a press release about Punt Casino, Owen said: “I’m a strong believer in the power of crypto, so teaming up with an innovative platform like Punt Casino feels like a natural fit.”
The press release made no mention of what countries or jurisdictions the firm is targeting, however.
Gambling advertising is widespread in football and it is very common to see famous ex-pros appearing in adverts.
But the firm promoted by Owen is very different from the likes of William Hill, Ladbrokes and Bet365, companies which are licenced and regulated by the UK Gambling Commission — Punt Casino has no UK licence.
Another unusual thing about Punt Casino is that it accepts payment in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.
“Punt Casino has quickly become a strong player in the crypto casino scene with its super-powered giveaways and outstanding online casino platform,” the firm says.
Bookmakers targeting UK customers do not tend to work with cryptocurrencies because the gambling regulator says the practice carries significant risks of money laundering and illegal activity.
“Punt Casino takes its responsibilities as a legitimate and licensed casino operator very seriously,” a spokesperson told The Athletic.
Why can’t Punt be advertised to UK consumers?
Under UK law, betting firms have to have a licence from the UK Gambling Commission in order to be advertised to UK consumers, a spokesperson for the Advertising Standards Agency confirmed to The Athletic.
The Athletic has previously investigated a series of Asian gambling companies, which advertise on English football shirts in Chinese and have no interest in the UK market.
But these firms use “white label” arrangements to abide by UK law.
Though this practice is controversial — and under increasing pressure as the UK government is undergoing a review into gambling laws — it is perfectly legal.
The Gambling Commission will not comment on specific cases but a spokesperson told The Athletic that “online gambling operators are required to hold a Gambling Commission licence to transact with UK based consumers”.
“For the record, Punt Casino is a fully licensed Curacao casino operating under the rules and regulations associated with that license,” a Punt Casino spokesperson said. “We do not target or promote our casino to customers of any countries and/or jurisdictions not allowed by such license.”
What about the NFTs?
This is not the first time this month that Owen has attracted controversy over his sponsorship deals. Last month he promoted an NFT (non-fungible token) project which said it is the first scheme of its kind “that can’t lose their initial value”.
The idea seems to be that the NFT will contain code which ensures it cannot be sold for lower than the price it was initially bought for, so it therefore cannot be sold at a loss.
But if somebody buys an NFT and the price falls, they then cannot reduce their losses by selling up, meaning they lose the entire amount they paid for it.
The Athletic can reveal that the Advertising Standards Authority subsequently got in touch with Owen instructing him to delete the tweet, for breaching Advertising Standards Authority rules about advertising cryptocurrency products. A spokesperson for Owen confirmed the tweet was removed and the case is now closed.
(Photo: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)