THERE'S an old saying: "In a bet, there is a fool and a thief." Running with that, the slippery-fingered one would be TAB Sportsbet's Jaimee Rogers, surely the hardest working person on Australian television, whose siren call rings wherever we watch sport.
Jaimee, who pronounces her name with a hyphen, isn't a thief of course. And you can forgive her for shouting to make herself heard. Her Tabcorp is $1.2 billion in debt and losing an entire generation of punters to the big online bookmakers, whose names are so similar they merge into one.
Their business models rely on the obsolescence of the local betting shop and a seismic shift in the way we gamble, whereby wagering will become as commonplace online as buying a book or scoring a date.
There's a reason why Jaimee's shrill tones and the trials of Freaked Underscore Out, the young cleanskin navigating his way past bearded ladies and hard-up leprechauns, can be beamed into our living rooms every 10 minutes.
In 2008, a High Court ruling opened the door for bookmakers to sell beyond their state border.
The aftermath represented a kind of Wild West in the Australian betting landscape. The big companies swaggered into town, staking claims, crossing boundaries and making a killing.
They really pushed their luck with the promotion of live odds. One Anzac Day, no sooner had the bugler wrapped up the Last Post than the market for the upcoming contest flashed on the scoreboard. In cricket, the Yoda-like Richie Benaud would extol the merits of backing the draw, given an imminent hailstorm, while former gaming addict Ray Warren kicked off a state of origin telecast by reminding us to get our bets on, with a ''gamble responsibly'' caveat.
Bookmakers, politicians, broadcasters, ground managers and governing bodies have since reached some sort of middle ground on live odds. But the TV and radio commercials endure.
The ads, which strive to out-decibel all others, play on the male ego and the desire for affirmation and instant gratification. Their stars are invariably goggle-eyed innocents or cock-a hoop, fist-pumping buffoons. At times, they're portrayed as being not long removed from the foliage. This, of course, is hardly an anomaly in Australian advertising, with its history of inexplicably certifiable stars.
They're also unashamedly pitched at young men. The 18-35 male has traditionally driven marketers to drink. But it's a sports mad, capricious and tech-savvy demographic.
Most gambling counsellors would offer skinny odds that the client flicking through magazines in their waiting room is an 18-35 male.
At a recent parliamentary joint committee, a representative from Sydney's Gambling Treatment Clinic spoke of "a rapid escalation in young males presenting for treatment for excessive sports betting".
In a hyper-competitive market, bookmakers go to great lengths to outmanoeuvre one another, while their foray into corporate citizenship has been sketchy at best. "Gamble responsibly, don't drink too much and be good to your mother," one radio ad concluded in mock, rapid-fire staccato.
Centrebet has enjoyed access to the Sydney Swans' membership database, "to understand how the club works and how to convert fans to punters," while a Melbourne man with a mental illness was lured by $5000 in free bets and ended up with debts of more than $80,000.
If the AFL were to jettison our leading bookmakers however, all sorts of offshore, reptilian lurk merchants would emerge. The paradox was encapsulated by ace British reporter Mazher Mahmood, who donned his sheikh robes, booked a hotel room and executed one of the great newspaper stings of our time, exposing cricket corruption in the process.
If we police our bookmakers to within an inch of their lives, Australia's journalism schools had better start throwing up a few of his ilk.
The joint Senate committee on gambling reform has called for a nationally consistent code for advertisers, together with a prohibition on advertising when children are likely to be watching. But the four-year marketing free-for-all has completely transformed the way we watch, construe and talk about sport.
With a six-point lead at half-time now known as a $1.95-$1.85 ball game, kids are introduced to the mathematics of the punt, presumably before they master their times tables. We fools absorb the hooting and the hollering while our sporting bodies kip down each night with an exotic and relatively unknown partner, an uneasy marriage of convenience if there ever was one.
Jonathon Horn is a freelance sports writer.
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