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Russian Connected Sportsbook MarathonBet Pulls Out Of UK Market

Ross Everett
by in Gaming Industry on
  • Russian sportsbook MarathonBet has shut down their UK platform, citing ‘recent and ongoing events in Europe’.
  • Obviously, they’re referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine but MarathonBet didn’t provide much clarity beyond that.
  • MarathonBet still operates in Italy, Spain and Denmark.

Online sports betting provider MarathonBet has announced their decision to leave the UK market–presumably temporary–due to what they’re euphemistically calling ‘recent and ongoing events in Europe’. As a company with Russian roots, you can no doubt figure out what ‘recent and ongoing events in Europe’ they’re talking about but that still leaves us with a lot of dots to connect and not much guidance from the company.

First, a bit of backstory–MarathonBet was launched in 1997 and was originally a retail bookmaker in Moscow. The brand prospered, and before long they followed the rest of the industry online with the first target markets being Russia, Belarus and Kazhakstan. They’ve found a fair amount of success and a couple of years ago started getting sponsorship deals with some high profile European soccer teams including Manchester City, Real Madrid and Dynamo Moscow. The company is now licensed in the UK, Denmark, Spain, Italy and Curacao.

Marathon Bet launched in the UK in 2015 under the corporate name ‘Panbet Limited’. According to several UK media sources, the company has over 750,000 clients in 94 countries and nine languages. There’s no doubt that they’re now a ‘global brand’ but their ‘Russian roots’ are extremely problematic right now and it’s hard to argue with the decision to quietly step away from the UK market. Here’s a screenshot of the announcement from their website:

The news site Liverpool Echo tried to figure out the Marathonbet corporate structure as it relates to the UK:

Panserve, which has a UK headquarters in Hove, East Sussex, is under the overall control of a company called Fund97 Ltd, with a registered address in Limassol, Cyprus, according to Companies House. The firm was previously under the control of a Leonid Borisovich Buryy, who resigned as a director in 2012.

Not that any of this means much–this type of ad hoc corporate structure isn’t unusual in the sports betting business. As far as their current Russian connections–that’s anybody’s guess. One thing of interest is that there are only a few online sportsbooks allowed to operate in Russia by the Roskomnadzor, the government’s communications agency. Technically speaking, online gambling was outlawed by the Russian government around 2006. At the very least, MarathonBet wouldn’t be operating in Russia were they outwardly hostile to the government.

That leaves us where we started–trying to figure out why they’re pulling out of the market now. The verbiage ‘recent and ongoing events in Europe’ sure sounds like they’re trying to not step on *anyone’s* toes–probably a wise move for a company with any type of Russian exposure. There wasn’t much coverage of the MarathonBet pullout in the mainstream UK media or–for that matter–the sports media. There’s plenty of anger toward Russia in the UK but at the same time there’s nothing to suggest that MarathonBet had been singled out.

As far as their other European markets–Italy has been playing both sides of the fence re: sanctions against Russia. Until recently, they had been resisting additional sanctions due to their dependence on Russian natural gas. In the past couple of days, they’ve agreed to not veto EU sanctions on Russian energy–due likely to the renewed outcry of the European public over likely war crimes in Ukraine. Spain has been fairly indifferent to Russia until lately but they’ve been trying to stay in sync with their European allies. Yesterday, Spanish law enforcement seized a $90 million yacht belonging to a sanctioned oligarch at the behest of the US. On the other hand, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been pressing Spain to more significantly curtail economic dealings with Russia. Denmark has been on board with sanctions since before the Russian invasion. As with the UK, MarathonBet’s corporate structure in the country has no explicit ties to Russia instead listing an address in Alderney, Channel Islands. If there’s any pressure on the Danish Gaming Authority re: MarathonBet I can’t find it.

My guess as to why MarathonBet is leaving the UK market, temporarily or otherwise–it probably has something to do with the latest round of sanctions against Russia which includes ‘asset freezes against Sberbank and Credit Bank of Moscow. Sberbank is Russia’s largest bank and this freeze is being taken in co-ordination with the US’ That would explain why MarathonBet is urging UK clients to withdraw any money on account by 4/14–or 8 days from now.

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