Foot­ball leg­end charmed del­e­gates

Daily Mail - - News -

BOOK­IES talked busi­ness at the home of Chelsea FC as they queued up to pose be­side the Premier League tro­phy and meet Dutch leg­end Ruud Gul­lit.

Del­e­gates at the fifth an­nual Bet­ting on Foot­ball con­fer­ence lunched in a box over­look­ing the pitch and took self­ies on sta­dium tours.

The 1,500 at­ten­dees – in­cluded ti­tans of the gam­bling world and for­mer play­ing leg­ends – rev­elled in the sur­round­ings of Chelsea’s Stam­ford Bridge for the £838-a-head two-day gam­bling jam­boree.

In the main con­fer­ence room un­der the West Stand, the pre­dom­i­nately male guests net­worked as they played ta­ble foot­ball and mar­velled at ex­hibits pro­mot­ing gam­bling tech­nol­ogy – sev­eral hosted by young women in short skirts.

Guests passed pic­tures of Chelsea stars in­clud­ing Gian­franco Zola as they climbed stairs to at­tend sem­i­nars and talks with ti­tles such as ‘Play the game – how to en­gage and mon­e­tise non-bet­ting foot­ball fans’.

By mid-af­ter­noon of the first day, many of the del­e­gates con­tin­ued their dis­cus­sions with bot­tled beer that was freely cir­cu­lated around the con­fer­ence. The drink­ing con­tin­ued un­til the early hours as the del­e­gates de­camped to the of­fi­cial con­fer­ence party at Lon­don’s County Hall, in the shadow of the Lon­don Eye.

It in­cluded the free use of 200 arcade ma­chines, 14 bowl­ing lanes, ta­ble ten­nis, pool ta­bles, bumper cars and bars flow­ing with al­co­hol.

On the sec­ond day, for­mer Chelsea player-man­ager Ruud Gul­lit spoke at an invitation-only event about ‘tack­ling neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions about

gam­bling’. He later posed for pic­tures with del­e­gates.

For others, the use of Stam­ford Bridge to pro­mote bet­ting felt wrong. Justyn Lar­combe, who now helps ad­dicts, said it was ‘ex­tremely sad’ that the ‘great club’ had cho­sen to host the event.

He said: ‘I’ve been in­vited to Stam­ford Bridge to speak to Chelsea youth teams about the dan­gers of gam­bling, so the club knows full well the risks and the devastation it can cause.’ Marc Etches, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Gam­bleAware, said the char­ity was ‘con­cerned about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween pro­fes­sional sport and com­mer­cial gam­bling’.

The con­fer­ence did dis­cuss con­cerns over gam­bling. Anna Hem­mings, the CEO of GamCare – which runs an ad­vice helpline – spoke about the dan­gers of young­sters bet­ting. But by the time she gave her talk only 13 peo­ple were left in the room.

Most had al­ready de­camped to Frankie’s World Cup Bar on the edge of the sta­dium ahead of the clos­ing party at a blues night­club un­der the club’s East Stand.

A Chelsea FC spokesman said it holds more than 600 events a year and con­cern was ‘a mat­ter for the event or­gan­is­ers and their guests.’

Glam­our: Hostesses like Mila, above, greeted del­e­gates

Photo op: Dutch star Ruud Gul­lit

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