It’s time to torpedo the punt
Nothing better symbolises the hypocrisy that surrounds sports betting in this country than this painting, which depicts the scenes in the Collingwood rooms after last year’s grand final.
You can’t see it at this resolution, but if you view the original painting up close, a betting slip is clearly visible in the hand of Tyson Goldsack, who is the bloke about fourth from the left standing against the wall with another player’s arm around his shoulder.
The slip contains the words “Mrs” and “80-1” and “first goal” – a reference to the successful bet Goldsack’s Mum placed on her son kicking the first goal. Nothing was untoward about that bet. But all the same, it’s a nice irony given the events of the past week.
On Friday, Collingwood star Heath Shaw was ousted for eight weeks for betting $10 on his captain Nick Maxwell to score the first goal in a match against Adelaide back in May. The odds were huge and the bet was tiny. But not as insignificant as the punishment.
By any measure, Shaw got off lightly. Last year, the AFL came down much more heavily on some of the least suspicious bets by some of the most minor figures imaginable. In one instance, an interchange steward was rubbed out for the season 2010 for placing $9 worth of bets, all in $1 and $2 denominations.
You have to ask, how did that warrant a season on the sidelines when a star player from the premiership club bets on his own team’s game and gets a mere eight weeks? Oh, and guess what? That means he’ll be back in time for the finals, which Collingwood would have strolled into with or without him.
It’s a whipping with a wet feather.
But really, you could bang on all day about the punishment fitting the crime, when there’s a much bigger issue at play here. And that issue is the degree to which betting has infiltrated the sporting landscape in Australia.
Let’s not be too prudish here, as so many tiresome newcomers to this subject often are. Sport and gambling are intrinsically linked in this country. Always have been. The only difference is that the betting markets which were once underground are now firmly above board.
The very language of Australian sport is awash with betting terms like “good thing” and odds-on” and “favourite” “and roughie” and countless more. We measure a team’s chances in the language of odds. Apart from anything else, it’s a sensible way to discuss probabilities.
Yet somewhere along the way in recent years, the balance has tipped. Betting is now rammed down our throats. It is not so much a colourful addition to the landscape as an ever-growing smear upon it.
The implications of this are twofold. One, there is the potential for corruption. And two, there is the potential to grow a whole new generation of gambling addicts.
Let’s talk about the potential for addiction first. The understanding of the impacts of sports betting is in its infancy. For decades, the churches and the politicians in this country have focused their attention on the pokies. Think of an addicted gambler and you too probably think of someone with blue rinse in their hair, or three toddlers in the car park.
But sports betting is gaining on the pokies up as a proportion of total turnover. There are around 40 active online bookies in Australia, and they have a much younger client base than the pokie dens.
The federal government is currently seeking to phase out the spruiking of live odds on sports broadcasts. But otherwise, it can and is doing very little about sports betting. In yesterday’s Fairfax press, Sports Minister Mark Arbib said “sporting organisations need to think carefully before accepting sponsorship from gambling companies”.
There’s that wet feather again. You can just imagine the agonising thought process a club would go through before gleefully grabbing a couple of hundred grand from Centrebet and trotting off to Crown Casino to celebrate.
And so, we have stadiums named after bookies, and teams sponsored by bookies. Sport’s governing bodies often receive a “product fee” from the bookies too, which is effectively a license fee for letting them bet on their sport. The revenue streams are as endless as the ways for punters to lose.
What’s to be done? Bottom line: ban the advertising. What’s the point of a body like the AFL going to all the trouble of celebrating women in the game, having indigenous rounds and putting Ben Cousins through the ringer if they’re leaving themselves exposed on the gambling front. Chains, weakest links, and all that.
Now a quick word on corruption. The way to stamp it out is so simple, it’s ridiculous. How? Kill exotic bets, that’s how. “Exotic” bets mean bets that are more complicated (and harder to win) than traditional bets like backing a team to win outright, or win with a points start.
These are the sort of bets that got Heath Shaw in trouble last week, or the rugby league “first try scorer” bets which landed certain NRL players in so much hot water recently.
You can literally bet on hundreds of exotic options on each match in a major football code. But here’s the thing. These bets are barely one per cent of a bookie’s turnover. Believe me, I have done stories in bookies offices on busy Saturday afternoons, and I have seen with my own eyes the hundreds of thousands of dollars in the win market. The stuff in the exotic markets often amount to just gold coins.
So ban them. It wouldn’t be like banning muffin sales on Jetstar, which generate more profit for the airline than its core business of bums-on-seats. We’re talking about something the bookies could live without, and should live without.
Corruption wise, all you’d then have to worry about is the unthinkably complex scenario of teams rigging entire games, which in this age of a dozen cameras at each game, would surely be impossible
Mind you, there’s a fantastic apocryphal tale from the movie Phar Lap. When the jockeys were told that they would have to recreate Phar Lap’s Melbourne Cup by riding each of the horses in a certain order, they shrugged and looked at each other and said “sure, no problem”.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…