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Gambling oversell ends badly for sports-mad males

Date

Jonathon Horn

The Australian betting landscape has turned into a kind of Wild West.

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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8 comments

  • I was escorting a psychiatric patient in the community the other day when he wanted to go into a TAB. Knowing that the psychiatrist has approved his gamboling for "quality of life" reasons I let him go in.

    The patient asked if I wanted to stay out side. "Oh no," I replied, "I don't gambol so I would love to go in. It is a great chance for me to check out another culture."

    The TAB was full of losers. There was a dozen men in there, all wearing old clothing (dark blue in shade) that was unironed, all needing a shave, all looking depressed. The mood in the place was definately low.

    Here was a room full of gambolers and not one of them appeared to be a winner, or successful, or happy.

    While my patient put $200 on his TAB account (never to be seen again) I looked up the odds for my footy team to win (Paying $16).

    The only woman in the place was behind the glass. She had pursed lips from dragging on to many cigarettes and looked like she was about to die of lung cancer in the next five years. The woman barked at one of the losers to go to the back of the line.

    When we got back to the hospital I made a clinical note that he was gamboling half of pension payment and knew that he was not ready for discharge anytime soon.

    Commenter
    Terrarocks
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    May 01, 2012, 8:37AM
    • I don't gamble but I do know how to spell it.

      Commenter
      pedant
      Date and time
      May 01, 2012, 10:54AM
  • Don't expect the AFL to do anything. While it boasts about its socially constructive policies and programs re race and gender (which do not cost it any revenue), it continues to be associated with the social evil of gambling. Of course, to actually distance itself from gambling, it would have to forego revenue from a number of sponsors. Since corporate revenue is one of the key metrics for measuring Andrew Demetriou's performance, and since his bonus is determined by that performance, it is not in his personal interest to dissociate the AFL from these parasitic companies.
    Self-interest: the only horse with an honest jockey.

    Commenter
    Tom Wills
    Location
    Yarra Park
    Date and time
    May 01, 2012, 11:27AM
    • $5 says nothing substantial will EVER be done about this, any takers?

      Seriously, if our schools ever managed to effectively educate the students about statistics then it wouldn't just be the kids from the privileged backgrounds (and how do think most of these families got so privileged in the first place?) that go into the winning side of all these gambling industries (as well as stocks, money markets, property development etc.)?

      The fools that still think that they can win from retail gambling are also allowed to vote, that should (unfortunately) explain a lot of how our country is today if you think about it.

      Commenter
      DC
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 01, 2012, 1:39PM
      • Agree with all of this, the AFL in particular is rapidly losing all semblance of being family friendly, all in pursuit of dollars it doesn't really need. Running pokies and promoting bookies for easy dollars.

        I don't agree with the point that if we banned the local sporting bet companies then insidious overseas bookmakers would take over. This is just self-serving industry and sporting association spin.

        The whole thing, as this article points out, is driven by advertising. Sports betting is still a comparatively underdeveloped phenomenon. Remove its legality, or even just remove the advertising, and both it and the harm it does would mostly wither on the vine, especially re local competitions like AFL or NRL. It is driven by, and transforming our culture through, the massive amount of mainstream advertising it does. Cut this and the cancer will shrivel. Don't hold your breath for this though, especially with the "Just say no" Coalition throwing itself in the arms of any vested interest that will have them.

        Commenter
        Marcus
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        May 01, 2012, 1:39PM
        • I particularly like the pitch from a certain scion of a well-known bookmaking and horse-racing family, who quite openly admits that he has no skills that are of any use whatsoever to society, but at least he knows about punting. I could almost feel sorry for him, if he wasn't such an oily prat.

          Commenter
          stevo64
          Location
          Central Coast NSW
          Date and time
          May 01, 2012, 1:40PM
          • Why do you assume that everyone who bets is vulnerable and cannot think for themselves? Even if betting on sports cannot be managed by some people it should not be overtly regulated, for their benefit. The hyperbolic assertion that ALL punters are victims (of a thief) is patently false. Most people that place bets on sports are not problem gamblers. This was established by the productivity commissions report that was the Genesis of the Willkie Pokie reforms.

            Like it or not this country has a gambling culture. There is more chance that Kids have been exposed to the horse racing via the Melbourne cup well before they are exposed to live sports odds. All of Victoria takes a Day off to watch a horse race, and the kids in other states all watch it on TV... Even if they don't watch sport at home.

            If you believe it is bad to bet on sport, simply don't bet. Easy. We don't need any more condescending pontification on how others should spend their time (or their money)

            Commenter
            Cwitty
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            May 01, 2012, 2:58PM
            • Congratulations Jonathon, on re-introducing that wonderful term, "lurk merchants".

              Commenter
              larry fortensky
              Location
              24 hours from Tulsa
              Date and time
              May 01, 2012, 3:27PM
              Comments are now closed
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