Australia’s ‘grubby’ $1b problem

BETTING is the new smoking and the cancer it causes is corruption.

Aussies are being subjected to non-stop ads for something harmful. It's the Marlboro man all over again.

Last week the Australian Football League was forced to suspend a player from the most popular team for gambling on matches he was involved in.

The Collingwood player, Jaidyn Stephenson, was banned for ten weeks and fined $20,000 for placing three bets on a range of things including his own performance and the performance of teammates.

Jaidyn Stephenson, was banned for ten weeks and fined $20,000. Picture: AAP Image/Daniel Pockett
Jaidyn Stephenson, was banned for ten weeks and fined $20,000. Picture: AAP Image/Daniel Pockett

How did the AFL catch him? He handed himself in.

Anyone who thinks this is the extent of the bad behaviour is deluding themselves.

Betting has its fingers around the neck of sports in this country and is beginning to squeeze.

TIME TO INSTALL ADBLOCK

Advertising isn't the only factor we can control to reduce the impact of betting, but it is the obvious one.

The extent of betting advertising is clearly too much.

Even people like me, who are interested in odds and have the occasional bet on sport, think it has gone overboard.

Sportsbet. Beteasy. Ladbrokes. Bet365. Topbetta. Neds. Classicbet. Madbookie. The number of companies you can bet with seems to have gone through the roof. Betting is omnipresent.

And of course now you can bet through an app on your phone.

That makes the risk of problem gambling much higher - it's hard to get addicted to betting on the Melbourne Cup once a year, but when people can bet non-stop the chance of addiction rises dramatically.

(This is why pokies are so risky. Sports betting is getting nearly as bad.)

Online gambling has problem gambling rates three time higher than other kinds of gambling. That's a whole other problem on top of the corruption betting introduces.

MONEY MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND

The reason betting is so lovingly embraced in so many places is that the betting companies share their revenue.

Money flows from gamblers to betting companies to the sports in question.

And also to the media companies that cover those sports.

The amount of money spent by the gambling companies on advertising rose 26 per cent in 2018 according to data from AdNews.

It spends over a hundred million dollars.

But money isn't everything.

Just this week an AFL team captain said he'd willingly take a pay cut if needed to help reduce the extent of betting ads in the game.

That's what leadership looks like, and it might help encourage the rest of Australia to finally say enough is enough.

The sport with the strongest association with betting is horseracing. Picture: Pat Scala/Racing Photos via Getty Images
The sport with the strongest association with betting is horseracing. Picture: Pat Scala/Racing Photos via Getty Images

So far though, enough is never enough. Sportsbetting in Australia is rising.

Even though overall gambling spending fell in 2016-17, betting on sports rose 15 per cent to over $1 billion.

And it is well understood that sportsbetting and corruption go hand-in-hand.

The sport with the strongest association with betting is horseracing, and horse racing has a very grubby reputation.

The expression "colourful racing identity" is synonymous with organised crime.

Do we really want to end up with "colourful football identities" too?

SOME LIGHT RESTRICTIONS

Of course, gambling companies haven't had it all their own way.

The government has made some effort to limit the extent of gambling ads.

After recent changes, gambling ads cannot be shown during games, or for the five minutes before or after, for sports broadcast between 5am and 8.30pm.

Of course, many of the most popular football broadcasts are night games which are largely broadcast after 8.30pm, so gambling ads are allowed at half time and straight afterwards.

Even the AFL itself has a $10 million a year deal with a company called BetEasy. Easy money, so to speak.

But the fish rots from the head down. The longer we leave this situation unchallenged the more deeply integrated betting companies will get with our sporting codes and the harder they will be to get rid of.

Gambling ads now can’t be shown during games. Picture: iStock
Gambling ads now can’t be shown during games. Picture: iStock

The Alliance for Gambling reform has called for the AFL to ditch its deal with BetEasy when it expires at the end of the year, noting in particular the risk that players might get addicted.

"Sporting professionals are particularly vulnerable to gambling addiction, partly because most of the major codes have done inappropriate sponsorship deals with various foreign-owned bookmakers such as Beteasy (AFL), Bet 365 (Cricket Australia) and Sportsbet (NRL)," said spokesman Tim Costello.

Australia eventually worked up the courage to get rid of smoking advertisements.

We need to channel that sort of spirit again. Otherwise we will spend years fighting the insidious corruption of our sports codes.


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