Football legend charmed delegates
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