Bookmakers surprised by £1M debt player claims

Bookmakers reacted incredulously to allegations yesterday that a senior England footballer had racked up gambling losses of around £1million and was refusing to settle the debt.

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The player, a household name, is alleged to have gambled the sum on horse racing and football matches and to have rebuffed repeated approaches from a betting firm to pay the money owed, reports The Times.

No bookmaker would speak publicly about the alleged debts, but a spokesman for one high-street firm said: "Any bookmaker who allows someone to owe them a million quid deserves to go out of business.”"

There have been numerous allegations in the past of England players betting heavily, culminating in Michael Owen's admission, in 2003, that he had lost in the region of £40,000 gambling on horses. But betting sources said the player alleged to have lost £1million is not Owen, but another international colleague with a well-documented history of gambling.

He is alleged to have lost the money on matches in the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League. The bookmaker in question is also reported to be pursuing a top European midfield player who plays for a high-flying Premier League club and owes in the region of £100,000.

In the past, gambling debts were not enforceable in law, but the Gambling Act 2005, which came into force last year, gives bookmakers the right to pursue customers through the courts.

An FA spokesman, speaking from the England squad's training base in Trinidad, said the issue had not been brought to the FA's attention and that unless it concerned betting on football matches in which the player was involved, it would be a personal matter.

One football agent, who represents a player rumoured to owe £1million, angrily denied the claims and threatened to sue any newspaper who named his client.