Fevola not the only mug addicted to free bookie credit
It’s every punter’s dream - betting with money they don’t have. But don’t think this fantasy is limited to wealthy bankers, lawyers and high-profile footballers like Brendan Fevola.
If you have a job and a place of residence, then congratulations. You, too, can get instant credit with one of Australia’s 40 odd corporate bookies. It’s easier than getting a phone line or gas connected, and it’s nothing short of a national scandal.
There were two disturbing aspects to Sunday’s brilliant exposé by Phil Rothfield and Rebecca Wilson. The first is that we all have to feel sorry for Brendan Fevola now that he’s a “victim” of gambling addiction, rather than just a common and garden variety idiot. The second is that anyone could end up in Fev’s shoes.
This is not an anti-gambling piece, per se. Not only do I enjoy the occasional bet, but I also used to work for bookies and count several of them as my friends.
But the online arm of the gambling industry is spinning wildly out of control at the moment, with only the barest regulation from state and federal governments who are only too keen to remind us, day and night, of the evils of drugs, booze, tobacco - and tax us accordingly.
Where is the political uproar over credit for gambling?
In case the politicians have forgotten, Australians now collectively have almost $50 billion in credit card debt. On average, each card is well over $3,000 in the red. You’d think, in such a climate, that alarm bells would ring over credit in an industry where borrowers do not even have a commodity to show for their debt.
This was actually a piece I was going to write for Alpha magazine before I left that publication in November. Before I left, I rang some corporate bookies who trade online to see how much credit I could get. A few gave me none. Some gave me small amounts like $200. Others gave me $1,000. One actually promised to match the amount of my first deposit.
So if I’d thrown in, say $10,000, then bingo! I’d have had $20,000 to play with.
The bottom line is that there’s virtually an endless stream of credit available to almost anyone. You don’t have to be Brendan Fevola. You just have to be the average sucker.
Bookies, of course, are entitled to run their business in accordance with the law. And the law says they can extend credit to anyone in Australia, if they are licensed in the Northern Territory (which most of them are).
Like a business supplying concrete pipes or carpet, a line of credit is essential for bookmakers to maintain ongoing relationship with large, regular clients whose own cashflow can be variable.
But let’s get serious. Does the same courtesy really need to be extended to first-time punters? This is gambling were talking about here. We’re not talking about people who need the money to get a house finished on time. It is pure recreational speculation.
If the bigwigs and idiots like Fevola - oops, I mean victims like Fevola - want to bet squillions “on the nod”, fine, let them play. But surely, the little guy should be discouraged. A really simple line to draw would be to bar credit betting for any bet under $100. That’d ensure that the guy who likes to bet $20 on his team on the weekend does so with his own money.
Because one thing is certain in all of this. When you owe a bookie even a small amount of money, you chase your losses. Then the $20 becomes $50, the $50 becomes $100, the $100 becomes $500 and so on. Or you take ridiculous betting options which invariably lose, like backing hopeless longshots.
It’s a classic trap, and bookies know it. That’s why they’ll fight tooth and nail to protect their right to offer credit. Not they’ve had to, because no one has ever challenged them on this. But someone should really find the guts to tackle this issue now.
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