Betting In Football - A Review Of The FA v Kian Harratt Case

In the latest in a series of high-profile football betting cases, The FA has handed Huddersfield Town striker, Kian Harratt, a four month ban and a fine of £3,200 for 484 breaches of the FA Betting Rules.



While it has become the norm for each of these cases to reignite the debate as to whether the FA’s Rules are fit for purpose given gambling’s significant presence within football (whether in the form of sponsorships or advertisements), the decision in this case re-emphasises the need to consider the bets placed by a Player subject to such charges in their broader context, taking account of each Player’s own personal circumstances.


Harry Bambury and Phil Hutchinson of Mills & Reeve (alongside Thomas Horton of 3 Hare Court Chambers) represented Kian Harratt in these proceedings. 


The bets placed

Since 1 August 2014, all professional football players in England have been subject to a blanket ban on placing bets on football anywhere in the world, irrespective of the teams or players involved, or the competition in which a match takes place.


Indeed, The FA slogan in their education material is that players cannot place “any bet on any football, anywhere in the world”.’ Notwithstanding this, The FA have established six different ‘categories’ of bets and has produced Sanctions Guidelines, with indicative starting points for both financial and sporting sanctions.


These can be summarised as follows:

– Category 1 bets, viewed as the least egregious, are those bets placed on any aspects of any football match anywhere in the world which does not involve the Participant’s own club or a competition in which their club competes. The starting point for sanction in relation to these bets is a warning or fine, with no sporting sanction applicable. 


– By contrast, the starting point on sanction for the Category 4 bets, where a Participant places a bet on their own team to lose, is a fine and a ban ranging from 6 months to life, depending on the severity of the bets involved. These, along with Category 6 bets, where a Participant places a bet on a particular occurrence involving themselves (ie, for the Participant to receive a yellow card during a match) are treated as the most serious categories of bets and, accordingly, attract the most serious sanctions.


The FA’s Sanction Guidelines are reproduced below:

Sanction guidelines – betting cases charged under FA Rule E8 (b)



Of the 484 bets placed by Mr Harratt:


301 fell into Category 1;

145 fell into Category 2;

28 fell into Category 3;

9 fell into Category 4;

1 fell into Category 5; and

0 fell into Category 6.


It is important to note that these Guidelines are primarily intended to operate as starting points. The Regulatory Commissions hearing cases of this nature are not bound by the Sanction Guidelines and are encouraged to have regard to the factors listed therein when determining whether the sanction to be imposed should be increased or decreased from the suggested starting point. Depending on the circumstances of each case, these factors may be treated as points of aggravation (serving to increase the sanction to be imposed) or mitigation (decreasing the sanction).


The Regulatory Commission, having regard to the nature of the bets placed by Mr Harratt, concluded that an appropriate starting point for sanction was a six-month ban. The bets placed by Mr Harratt spanned five of the six categories set out above, each with varying sporting sanction ranges. In reaching a six-month starting point, the Commission concluded that the threshold between the maximum suggested sanction for Category 3 and the minimum for Category 4 was an appropriate place to start.


The Commission then considered the presence of any aggravating factors of the case in determining whether the six-month starting point should be adjusted upward. The FA presented evidence that shows Mr Harratt attended sessions as part of The FA’s education programme which would have highlighted the risks of betting on football. The Commission therefore concluded that Mr Harratt had full knowledge of the betting rules, yet continued to place bets on football. An upward adjustment was therefore applied to take the sanction to 8 months.


Following this, the Commission turned to the mitigating factors presented in support of Mr Harratt’s position. The Commission considered Mr Harratt’s age and inexperience to be mitigating factors, as well as his full co-operation and engagement with The FA’s investigation. Mr Harratt was also able to rely on character evidence, obtained from former managers and coaches, which demonstrated that he took a dedicated and committed approach to his own development on the pitch. The Written Reasons published by The FA were partially redacted, in order to safeguard the privacy and sensitivity of other aspects of Mr Harratt’s position on mitigation. After considering the numerous mitigation factors, the Commission applied a downward adjustment to a four-month suspension.


Perception – the touchpoint?

With each decision in betting cases involving professional football players, the debate as to whether The FA Betting Rules fulfill a desirable goal is reignited. Some point to the prevalence of gambling sponsorships in football and ask whether it is fair that Participants may be sanctioned for placing bets of any kind on football. Others ask whether reverting to The FA’s rules from before 2014 would be preferable. Under the previous regime, Participants were only unable to bet on any match or competition in which they were involved during that season, or which they could otherwise influence. 


In the more recent decisions in cases of this nature however, Regulatory Commissions (who are generally made up of a legally qualified chair and two wing members with football/legal experience) hearing such cases have demonstrated they are alive to these issues. While the blanket ban on betting in football does not appear to be going anywhere soon, the Commissions have sought to deploy the concept of ‘perception’ (i.e., how does the nature of the bet placed affect how the public view the game?) as a way of navigating this hotly contested area.


When considering each of the bets placed by Mr Harratt, both parties made submissions as to how the bet impacted on the public’s perception of the game involved. For example, the public’s perception of a Category 1 bet (i.e., one that was placed on a competition not involving Mr Harratt or his club) is unlikely to call the integrity of the game into question. Mr Harratt was unable to influence the result of these matches in any way, so the fact that he had placed a bet on it did little to change the public’s perception. 


Perception also justifies the different suggested sporting sanction ranges between each category of bets. For example, Category 4 and 6 bets, where a Participant places a bet on his own team to lose or on a particular occurrence involving themselves, attract the most significant sanctions, as they are perceived by the public to be the most likely situation where a Participant who has placed the bet is able to influence the result of the match on which it was placed.


Notably, in this case, the concept of ‘perception’ extended beyond simply considering the Category that the bet fell into, but also the nature of the bets themselves. For example, the majority of Mr Harratt’s bets were accumulator bets. This meant that, in order for the bet to be successful, more than one selection must be correct. The public’s perception of the impact of these bets on the integrity of the games on which Mr Harratt had placed bets was therefore less likely to be affected. For example, where an accumulator bet including one selection that would fall into Category 4 and five other selections falling into Category 1 was placed, the public’s perception of the bet will be impacted less than where a single selection bet that would fall into Category 4 was placed. For the accumulator bet to be successful, not only does the Category 4 selection need to be successful, but so too do the five other selections which the Participant would have no way of influencing in any way. Given that the majority of Mr Harratt’s bets were accumulator bets, the perception of the impact on the integrity of the games involved was held to be impacted less. 


While the broader debate about The FA Betting Rules continues, the willingness of the Regulatory Commissions overseeing these cases to consider all of the circumstances and in particular, the external perception of each bet, is to be commended. In reaching a four month ban and a £3,200 fine, one could argue that the Commission struck an appropriate balance between the enforcement of its rules and giving due consideration to the attenuating factors in play in Mr Harratt’s case. While this ban will mark the end of the season for Mr Harratt, we wish him all the best with his ongoing recovery and rehabilitation from his injury and hope to see him back on the pitch again next season.


Written by Harry Bambury and Phil Hutchinson.





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