As the 2020 NRL season draws closer, the inevitable predictions about who will make the top eight begin doing the rounds.
“Sports that embrace sports betting are like heavy smokers. Yes, it is pleasurable at first and a seductive source of revenue. Drag it down deep, there you go, and blow rings at the wowsers that fear for you.”
“But the longer it goes and the more heavily it is inhaled, the more likely it will turn cancerous. Attacking first at the fringes, minor players agreeing to do little things – until it metastases to the point of Test results that tell the tale and it is obvious to all that the very soul of the sport is now malignant.”
This ominous message from Peter Fitzsimons is an unfortunate but accurate depiction of the current Australian sporting landscape.
Whether you are a regular Saturday punter, partial to a multi bet on the footy, or a once a year Melbourne cup specialist, the growth of sports betting in Australia has been there for all to see, in more ways than one.
With this growth has come the unfortunate by product of corruption and illegal betting that is threatening the very integrity of our sports. Cases have been popping up across the country in recent times, from the much publicised Ryan Tandy case, to Collingwood footballers betting on their own match, and even Essendon assistant coach Dean Wallis found guilty of betting on games.
The ever growing list of incidents has not been ignored however, with Federal Minister for Sport Mark Arbib a key player in stamping out corruption and illegal betting.
Senator Arbib has established an anti-corruption commission announcing an agreement to establish a “betting integrity group” with representatives from each sporting body, in an attempt to tackle the corruption.
With these safety nets now in place, and the government, sporting bodies and betting agencies all monitoring potential corruption and illegal betting on games, surely it is safe to take your kids down to Centrebet Stadium in Penrith to watch the Panthers take on the Centrebet Manly Sea Eagles?
No, wait. See, it’s here that the real problem lies.
The real elephant in the room is not the availability of exotic bet options, nor the billions of dollars traded each year on foreign illegal betting markets.
The real issue is the relationship that our sporting bodies now have with these major bookmakers and betting agencies, and the affect it will have on the next generation.
The AFL reportedly has a deal worth estimated $2 million a year with Betfair and the TAB. Within the clauses of these deals, the betting agencies aggressively outline the way in which their product is to be exposed, and with this comes the regular betting updates from commentators, the odds fixed directly under the score on scoreboards at grounds, and the display of odds on our TV screens in full view of impressionable kids and teenagers.
The next generation will reach the legal betting age having been so exposed to these odds and relentless advertisements that a Betfair or TAB account will soon be as common as a NAB or ANZ account.
Senator Nick Xenophon echoed the sentiments of Fitzsimons: “The almost symbiotic link between sport and sports betting agencies will turn out to be a cancer on our sports.”
The Productivity Commission said that in 2010, 424,000 online sports wagering accounts were active in Australia, up a staggering 73 percent on 2006 figures.
The alarms surrounding this increase will ultimately fall on deaf ears though, with the boards at clubs across the country now looking at betting agencies as a major source of income.
Scott Penn, chairman of the Manly Sea Eagles, has openly embraced the betting agencies as a means to a viable financial future, signing a $1 million dollar deal with Centrebet. He said that “Sports betting agencies will ultimately become the second largest revenue earner to television rights.”
We only have to rewind the clock 20 years, and as we sat at the cricket all around the country we were surrounded by advertisements for Benson and Hedges on each boundary. We watched as Tina Turner sang ‘Simply the Best’ at the grand final of the Winfield Cup. 20 years on we are now surrounded by, and inundated with, advertisements for Betfair, Centrebet, Sportingbet, and TAB at these events.
Surely the government can show some initiative and realise these toxic advertisements will have just as serious repercussions on our society, before it is too late.
What are the odds on an expanded new generation of problem gamblers?