Meanwhile, Waterhouse’s cup runneth over…
When you think of a problem gambler, chances are you think of someone in a dank, windowless pub section, engrossed by flashing lights and sinisterly cheerful music.
Someone who goes for the free International Roast and stays for the occasional plink of coins won. Someone a bit pathetic.
Not someone in a fascinating mini-headpiece or a nice suit, right? Somehow the glamour of punting on horses hides the fact that that it, too, fuels problem gambling.
It’s true that pokies are far and away the biggest culprit. Three out of four people with a serious gambling problem play the pokies. And most people gamble responsibly at the races. At Melbourne Cup time there’s probably a bigger social impact from booze, from cheap chicken and chardy or the occasional Moët overdose.
But there’s still something dire about the disconnect between pokie-related problem gambling and the champagne-soaked celebration of splashing the cash at Melbourne Cup.
Wielding the bedazzler is thoroughbred Tom Waterhouse, who walks across our television screens casting a glamour on all things betting.
With a toothy grin like a self-satisfied Scientologist, you almost expect him to be jumping on couches declaring his love of gambling; but that would be too crass for someone of his breeding.
Instead it’s all sharp suits, Mad Men-style trendy bags, black and white chic. He wants to give you what you want. Which is for you to give him your money.
In 2010 more than $100 million was bet on the Melbourne Cup in Victoria and NSW alone. It’s big bucks. Wagering on horses is also continuous, like pokies. It offers excitement and instant gratification.
But we’re not really talking about horses when we talk about problem gambling.
Maybe it’s partly a snobbery thing – in the same way that we think it’s OK to swill top-notch Pinot by the demijohn but we need to stop the poor degenerates getting pissed on cheap as chips gutrot.
It could also be that this unsteady Government is reluctant to put the squeeze on more than one golden-egg-laying goose at a time.
And maybe it’s also because we are almost proud of our propensity to bet on horses; we love a punt, we’re Australian. It’s part of our culture. It’s tradition. And traditions can’t possibly be bad, can they?
There’s no danger in a one-off flutter on the Cup, as long as you don’t bet the house or kids. But there is a real danger in more general race betting, and in this new marketing trickery redefining it as not just ‘Australian’ but five-star-top-hat-flash-car-haute-couture classy.
Tom Waterhouse is not selling us the occasional flutter. He’s selling a lifestyle, jolly good old-fashioned glamour. A glamour that distracts from the dirty, fast-paced, technology-driven money-making machine behind it.
People like Tom Waterhouse magick away any worries that, for some, betting can lead to devastating addiction.
I asked gambling expert Associate Professor Matthew Rockloff about this sexier sort of gambling. He likens it to drug abuse. For most people who want to get high, alcohol is their drug of choice. But the addicted will take whatever’s going. Prof Rockloff, who is the deputy director of the Central Queensland University’s Institute for Health and Social Science Research, warned that we concentrate on poker machines maybe to the exclusion of other forms of gambling, and that we can’t afford to be complacent about race betting.
He points out that in the UK, it’s betting on the hounds or the horses that’s the real problem, not the ‘fruit machines’, because of the different market dynamics over there.
No one wants to be a downer, least of all today. But it’s equally a good time to peel back Tom Waterhouse’s mystical curtain just a bit. That toothy grin is there for a reason; he knows what the punters want, he knows how to give it to them, and he knows who’ll be the real winner at the finish line.
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