Russian bookie 1xBet to continue sponsoring Barça
Club has not broken its agreement with the Cyprus-based company, three of whose owners have had arrest warrants issued against them
BarcelonaAs the search for new income to balance the 21/22 budget continues, Barça has decided not to renounce to the €9m to €12m a year it receives from 1xBet, a Russian bookmaker which is among its global sponsors. After the invasion of Ukraine, the club's board and commercial department discussed the possibility of breaking or suspending the deal signed in 2019 was studied. However, a decision was made to maintain it. One of the reasons is that the company has its main headquarters in Cyprus despite the fact that its capital comes from Russia, a country where, paradoxically, it was banned from operating after its license was revoked almost two years ago, following a scandal originating in the United Kingdom.
1xBet was founded in 2007 as a digital casino and in 2014 made the leap to sports betting. It operates in a few countries, including Spain, under licenses granted to subsidiary companies. In Latin America, for example, it started operating thanks to a subsidiary on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, a Dutch overseas territory. Its founding partners are Serguei Karshkov and Roman Semiokhin, two Russian businessmen who were convicted in their home country for scams related to illegal gambling, alongside Dmitri Kazorin, who joined them later; they are currently wanted by Interpol and also hold Cypriot passports. Despite these circumstances, 1xBet not only sponsors Barça: it also collaborates with the Italian Serie A, of which it is the official bookmaker, with the Paulista championship in Brazil, with the African Cup and with three of the most important Chilean soccer clubs: Colo Colo, Universidad and Universidad Católica.
In the midst of its expansion period, 1xBet, before partnering with Barça, reached agreements with several Premier League clubs. Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea, three of the top teams in the English competition, broke off their partnership with the Russian company after an investigation by the Sunday Times revealed that the brand was linked to the promotion of betting on children's sports, cockfighting and an online porn casino with topless croupiers. After all this was proven to be true, the British government denied 1xBet a license, noting the company was also among the main sponsors of illegal sports broadcasting platforms. As a result of this investigation, the Russian authorities discovered that Karshkov, Semiokhin and Kazorin operated in the country through software monitored from Gibraltar. That is to say, illegally. For this, they face a six-year prison sentence and have had their assets seized.
In parallel to this controversy, and thanks to its status as a global company, 1xBet continues to develop its activity through a subsidiary, Wagerfair, with its main headquarters in Valencia, and boasts on its website of 400,000 registered users throughout Spain. In terms of workers, it says it has 5,000 worldwide.
Laporta, no friend of bookmakers
Sources consulted by ARA claim that Barça's sponsorship agreement with 1xBet is for €8.7m a year, which can reach up to €12m depending on variables linked to sporting success. The deal was signed at the beginning of the 19/20 financial year, months before the covid-19 pandemic broke out, and at the moment there are no plans to cancel it. The club has committed up until 2024 –there are two more years to go– and breaking it suddenly would entail a million-dollar indemnity that the club, at this stage, does not want to take on. In addition, both the club's commercial area and the board recall that this bookmaker does not have much visibility through official channels. In fact, it already became less visible after the Spanish government passed a decree regulating online gambling advertising. Even so, the convenience of continuing the partnership with 1xBet has been debated (and will continue to be debated) inside the club.
It must be said that this betting company is the second that Barça has had among its partners. The first was Betfair, which in 2016 landed at the club and stayed until 2019. Until then, Barça had remained outside an industry that has become one of the main sources of funding for world football. In fact, Joan Laporta, in his first term, was always against accepting the sponsorship of Bwin, a gambling company that eventually ended up on the front of Real Madrid's jersey. That stubbornness put him at odds with some board members at the time, such as Ferran Soriano or Marc Ingla, but allowed him to fight for Unicef to appear on Barça's first kit. Some close to Laporta draw a parallel between that dispute and the one he had a few weeks ago during the selection of the next sponsor. He is backing Spotify, which right now is the only option on the table since cryptocurrency companies, which offered more money, were ruled out.