In 1993 I bet $1 on Vintage Crop to win the Melbourne Cup. I was in primary school at the time, and was with my Dad as he braved the ridiculous crowds at the local TAB to place a handful of modest bets. A couple of hours later at the Cup Day BBQ, I watched as some horses ran around a track, and afterwards someone told me I’d won about $5. I was thrilled. When it turned out to be $16.20, I was beyond ecstatic. Yes, I still remember the precise amount, more than two decades later.
It remains the highlight of my gambling career.
I tell this story because I want to make this clear: I am not anti-gambling.
If someone is gambling within their means, and it’s not impacting their life outside of gambling, then there is no problem whatsoever. It’s not my thing, but that’s OK.
But let’s not pretend that the form of gambling that exists around sports in 2015 is the same form of gambling that my Dad performed on my behalf in 1993.
“Punting” is no longer “just punting.”
Throwing a $2 coin in a horse race sweep at the office is not the same as sitting at the footy watching odds updated in real-time on the big screen while you switch between 2 different Apps on your phone to get the best odds on the first goalscorer of an AFL match about to commence interstate.
Sports betting is pervasive in Australia in 2015, and it’s getting worse. Not only is sports betting more common, the forms of sports betting being used are more destructive than ever.
You will have seen the ads on TV from a dozen or so sports betting agencies, each offering features designed specifically to rope in people they strategically call “punters.”
The most egregious of these attractive features could be the ‘Cash Card’ offered by a couple of agencies, that means you can get your cash IMMEDIATELY following a horse race, even if a protest is lodged on which horse actually won.
In effect, the Cash Card is saying “You know those times you won and felt great for a minute, but then lost because of an upheld protest? Yeah… we can totally cheat the system for you! Even if your horse is disqualified, you can WIN! CA$H! FASTERER!”
It is a blatant appeal to the way problem gamblers crave instantaneous gratification. Legitimate protests and justified disqualifications? They’re just buzzkills getting in the way of true-blue punters, apparently.
And it’s not just horse racing. Analysis from Macquarie University in 2013 showed that the AFL Season averaged 11 minutes of on-screen betting information per match.
The way this implies that gambling and AFL go hand-in-hand is bad enough (especially with kids watching), but think back to the final round of the 2013 AFL Season.
Fremantle (3rd on ladder) played St Kilda (16th). But with nothing to gain from winning, and nothing to lose from losing, Fremantle controversially omitted most of their elite players to rest them for the Finals.
Fremantle’s B-Side got smashed. And who do you think was chomping at the bit to cash in on the betting chaos Fremantle’s selections had caused?
That’s right: Betting agencies swooped, and there was an astonishing 24 minutes of on-screen branded betting content during that single match’s broadcast. More than double the average. They knew there would be heightened interest in the game, with weird circumstances leading to strange betting behaviours.
They spent thousands extra on advertising for those extra on-screen minutes… and they’re not idiots… they only did that because they knew they would make a fortune in return.
Betting agencies will argue that they “just provide a service for punters” and that they discourage problem gambling with their disclaimers. Their ads show regular-joes, at the pub with mates, having a beer and cheering at the screen while having a laugh and hilariously dancing to the desk to collect their winnings. And they always win.
But all the research indicates that this is not the reality. Young men aren’t betting at the pubs and bars and TABs with mates. In fact, a lot of younger gamblers view this form of betting in a negative light.
Quotes from study participants:
“I think I’d have a negative look upon some of them. There’s just this group of men, zombies, watching this TV.”
“You go into the local TAB and see the same guys every time.”
“There’s something a bit ‘old man’ about the TAB.”
So no, young men (in particular) are not betting while having a laugh with mates at the pub. They’re betting online or on their phones. It’s more anonymous, requires far less effort, and all the research shows that it increases the likelihood that they will bet beyond their means.
It will shock you to learn this, but according to studies it turns out that young men have an “inflated sense of how well they know sports”!
Who would’ve thought that research indicates that young men VASTLY “overstate how well they know a sport”, and are arrogant in their predictions about that sport?
So these young men are easy targets for companies that simply don’t care if they’re putting them on a path to ruin. So what are we doing to stop it happening?
Problem gambling has social costs to Australia of over $5Billion per year. The total cost of illicit drug use (for all illicit drugs combined!) is around $10Billion.
So it is reasonable to say that the ice “epidemic” that is “gripping our nation” and has politicians climbing over each other to invest in prevention programs and taskforces is NOWHERE NEAR as big a social issue as problem gambling.
After all, if ice is only a small percentage of total illicit drug use, it’s social costs are way below the $5Billion+ costs of problem gambling.*
So problem gambling is such an issue, and online sports betting represents the biggest emerging problem. And yet betting agencies have employed two foolproof ways to protect themselves from scrutiny.
- They buy advertising. LOTS of advertising. This keeps the media firmly onside. You don’t bite the hand that feeds, and newspapers aren’t writing articles about people going bankrupt on Sportsbetting Apps if that same App buys advertising space.
- They call their customers “punters” and vilify anyone opposing them as ‘UnAustralian‘ which scares off political interference.
On the first point, these are three screenshots from The Age’s AFL page, the Herald Sun’s AFL page, and Fox Footy’s fixture page.
The fact that the banner advertisements are so overwhelming is bad… but the worst example might be the way the Fox Footy page has a Ladbrokes ‘BET NOW’ button under every single team logo, complete with odds for the upcoming match.
That’s NOT a betting site. That’s the AFL Fixture Page on Fox Sports!
Remember when I said that Betting Agencies call their targets punters for strategic reasons? It’s because of the image of a “punter” being a Dinki-Di Aussie Larrikin. So any government regulation that gets in their way? Well… that’s just UnAustralian… and it’s political suicide.
So as you can see, it’s pretty dire. There are small victories, however. You can no longer bet on live games within Australia, for example. But that was really brought about because of the potential corruption that follows live in-game bets. It had little to do with helping protect problem gamblers.
These companies are making squillions, and there is little-to-no interest from politicians or the media in curbing their activities.
Why would a politician risk being a ‘Nanny Stater’ targeting “fair dinkum punters” and face the electoral backlash? Why would a newspaper highlight the significant problems associated with their major advertising clients?
The answer is: They wouldn’t. They won’t.
I’ll bet you anything.