Hey Xenophon, don’t shoot the gambling messengers
There are 20 minutes remaining. Score’s locked at 16-all. The young family is in the lounge room, a rare event in itself, nervously watching their Wests Tigers.
As a scrum is formed, Ray Warren proclaims with a hint of surprise the Tigers are $2.15 to win on TAB Sportsbet. Dad, slumped in his armchair, jolts, bolt upright. He commands his eight-year-old boy to bring him the phone. The little boy marvels as he watches Dad punch in the numbers with vigour.
Dad replaces his customary “hello” for a mysterious set of numbers, before announcing down the line - no, demanding - he will have a hundred dollars on the Wests Tigers, and doing it with a sense of pride. The conversation ends, the phone dispensed with.
Dad leans forward and with a renewed burst of energy, he’s suddenly fidgety and increasingly braying. Those 20 minutes take 20 hours. No one inside that television is spared Dad’s advice, especially the man with the whistle. Then it happens. One minute on the clock. Tigers go the attack. They raid the touchline and with a final bit of magic, cross the line to win the game.
Dad leaps to attention, knocks his beer all over the last remnants of pizza, punches the air and in his bliss forgets his daughter is asleep in the next room, shrieking “YOU BEE-AUTY”, as a family rejoices in the thrill of victory and their new found fortune.
And in that moment, the eight-year-old boy has been corrupted.
That’s the argument of independent Senator Nick Xenophon. He wants to remove the recent trend, nay explosion, of gambling odds being announced during live sporting broadcasts. In this current state of uncharacteristic independent political influence, where otherwise negligible back benchers are filling their boots, Xenophon’s intentions appear nothing short of noble.
Unlike Senator Xenophon, this writer is not an independent. This writer is a commentator on a Rugby League broadcast which may well deliver the most amount of live odds during a game, on any station, in any medium.
So you may be surprised to learn this writer in fact agrees with Xenophon. Of course the presence of gambling odds during live sporting broadcasts helps “normalise” the idea of plonking down money on the game. I don’t have a degree in medicine but if you don’t agree that gambling advertising has some impact, I think I can safely assert you are clinically insane.
But isn’t the purpose of any advertising to normalise, to provide the bridge between the recipient and the unfamiliar?
Look at any prime time sporting broadcast. Gambling commercials, sure. The other staples? Beer and fast food. Regular Joes having fun at the pub or at the barbie - sometimes bumping in to fading rock stars - or impossibly good looking young adults munching down on Big Macs and Tower burgers, as if those raft of calories are miraculously expended solely for lighting up those mega-watt smiles.
Sound about right?
Don’t see any plans for curbing those evils though. Gambling is the target du jour.
Let me take you down this path. Imagine three people. Anyone. One is a gambling addict, one obese from a lifetime of wolfing down fast food and the other an alcoholic.
Let’s start with the fatty. Even the uneducated know fast food is the fast track to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and the rest. Indisputable. Translation: a drain on the health system. You get fat and sick, I pay for it.
Alcohol? Same thing. Depleting my tax dollars or jacking up my private health premium while you get treated for liver disease. Not to mention the waste of time and money on the justice system because you got into a drunken stink outside the pub at 3am.
Now think about the gamblers. The addicts. What are the consequences? Loss of money, loss of loved ones. Dreadful and all too unexceptional, but nonetheless a vice in which its abuse brings wholly self-inflicted punishments. After all there’s no refund if you include a losing Centrebet ticket on your tax return.
Gambling, as malevolent an activity as it is - conveniently legal, mind you - but malevolent, has far less impact on society than fast food and alcohol. So go ahead, rein in gambling advertising, but to not take the other two atrocities with you would be outright hypocrisy.
Now back to the Senator.
The scene we played out at the start might as well be the first paragraph in Xenophon’s proposed doctrine. But what is it exactly about that episode that’s so hazardous? Is it the commentator spurting out a strange set of numbers and unfamiliar lingo embedded among the 5,000 words he’ll use on the night, or is it the impressionable child absorbing the reaction those words elicited from Dad, the change in his behaviour and sudden interest, the heightened senses attached with the agony or the ecstasy of riding a bet?
This challenge is not one for society and State to impose upon itself. It is one for families to manage. To educate.
Monkey see, monkey do.
Just imagine this. It’s 16-all, 20 minutes left. Ray Warren announces the Tigers are $2.15 on TAB Sportsbet. Dad, slumped in his armchair basking in the after-glow of a pizza and beer hangover, leans forward, follows a ‘tsk tsk tsk’ with “Geez, that live betting, you know kids that’s why your Uncle Gary lives in that little flat. He had the most beautiful place. Aah you should have seen it. Big backyard, huge pool, giant plasma. It was a palace. But the bloody gambling, it got him”.
He leans back. Message delivered. Still think that eight year old boy has been corrupted?
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