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Sports betting is ruining more than our sports


We know the AFL and NRL have opened their arms wide to gambling. We know this was the exact opposite of The Football Association in the United Kingdom that, four years ago, refused the rivers of gold from sports betting sponsorships in order to protect children. We know that gambling is now so entrenched it is changing the way people, especially young people, follow sport. The odds of each team are routinely quoted and parents are left struggling to explain to their young children what a ‘multi’ is.

And Roy Morgan polling of 16,000 Australians found that sport betting had doubled in the last five years and that a third of spending on bets is placed by people with a gambling addiction. It also revealed problem gamblers made up almost 20 per cent of some sport betting companies’ customer base.

So now that the former AFL chief Gillon McLachlan has moved into the role of CEO at Tabcorp, rather than being unexpected, it feels like a logical step. For some who may have an occasional bet on the football, the tie up between AFL/NRL and gambling may seem relatively harmless.

It is not.

Gambling rips $25 billion out of communities across Australia every year. Those losses, especially amid a cost-of-living crisis, create social harm on an industrial scale. Wagering or online and sports betting is the fastest growing segment of this gambling market and when 80 per cent of 10-year-olds know their brands and odds it has brand capture for generations to come. Yes, it might be legal, but so is tobacco and we do not let 10-year-olds know the brand and price of a packet of Marlboros or Peter Stuyvesants. Why is this adult product treated so differently?

Beyond the obvious financial losses, gambling creates relationship breakups, partner violence, crime and health and mental health issues. Research from different countries has shown that among people receiving treatment for gambling harm, between 22 per cent and 81 per cent have thought about suicide and 7-30 per cent have attempted suicide. Australian researchers have said that if we collected the right information on suicides, it is likely that up to 20 per cent of all suicides in Australia would be linked to gambling.

Not so long ago, the AFL decided that before all their games they would take a minute’s silence to highlight the issue of partner violence in our community and the women who had been killed. While it was poignant to see young men standing in solidarity with women against violence, for the AFL itself the move was hypocritical. The financial burden and stress of gambling losses make domestic violence both more frequent and more severe.

Research shows us that domestic violence is three times more likely to occur in families in which there is problem gambling than in families in which there are no gambling problems. Yet the AFL, NRL and free-to-air television executives have all lobbied hard against any government action to curb gambling advertising. It seems the AFL and their ilk are all for tackling gender-based violence until it hits their bottom line.


'The AFL, NRL and free-to-air television executives have all lobbied hard against any government action to curb gambling advertising. It seems the AFL and their ilk are all for tackling gender-based violence until it hits their bottom line.'


Gillon McLachlan’s appointment to Tabcorp is a little curious, given that during his reign he opened the doors up to rival Sportsbet that effectively owns the AFL. That deal gave the AFL three bites of the gambling pie. They received a portion of every bet placed on AFL matches by Sportsbet, a lucrative sponsorship deal they then profited from boosting the price of their broadcast rights.

And Gillon McLachlan has made some statements in the past about the social damage caused by gambling, so we can be sure about his future stance. Plus, McLachlan is a master negotiator. He can open any door in the country. This is bad news for our hope for gambling reform.

Gambling already has its hooks into our political leaders – gambling companies are among the most generous political donors and they have the most lobbyists in our parliaments.

Despite enormous public antagonism about gambling and greater media exposure about its impact, the losses only increase each year – more than doubling our population growth. I guess that’s because the vested interests and well-connected elites have captured our politicians.

Of course, there is a golden opportunity for once-in-a-generation gambling reform. The Federal Government could move now to make a make a profound difference in tackling gambling harm and its impacts by accepting all of the recommendations of the Murphy Parliamentary Inquiry.

Labor’s own Peta Murphy MP led the inquiry into gambling harm and delivered a compelling report which came to the government with unanimous support from all its members, across numerous political parties.

Peta fought for gambling reform even in her last days of life when she ultimately lost her fight to cancer. Her report’s recommendations include a reasonable ban on gambling advertising phased in over three years. Studies show that 7 in 10 Australians believe there are too many betting advertisements, and that gambling advertising on television should be banned. Parents in particular are concerned about their children’s vulnerability to gambling advertising.

Murphy’s parliamentary inquiry found that the ‘inescapable torrent’ of gambling advertising was normalising online gambling and its links with sport, grooming children and young people to gamble, and encouraging riskier behaviour.

The Murphy recommendations also include a raft of other changes to reduce gambling harm, including the creation of a national gambling regulator and increased funding for gambling harm support services.

I have often said gambling is Australia’s blind spot – just as guns are a blind spot in the US. The tragedy is that both of these blind spots are lethal. In Australia, the impact of gambling may be often hidden, but it kills just the same. And the violence and killing that gambling fuels is something we must not continue to ignore if we genuinely want to stop gender based and partner violence.




Tim Costello is chief advocate for the Alliance for Gambling Reform.

Main image: Gillon McLachlan (Getty Images)

Topic tags: Tim Costello, AFL, Sportsbet, Gambling, Advertising, AusPol



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Existing comments

Agree totally with you Tim-typical, historical, repeated eventuality is to see so-called high profile CEO's causing trauma, damage, making biased decisions based solely on money, and then ending up in a ridiculously paid job in the same companies they promoted or engaged.

Damian | 27 June 2024  

Good point Tim, "It seems the AFL and their ilk are all for tackling gender-based violence until it hits their bottom line." Tabcorp sponsors NRL, AFL clubs Brisbane Broncos, Parramatta Eels, GWS Giants, Brisbane Lions. McLachlan will be in his element.

These countries have banned gambling (with some exceptions for horseracing): UAE, Japan, Qatar, Brunei, Cambodia. Nth Korea, Singapore, Cyprus, Lebanon and Poland. The correlation between gambling addiction, DV, divorce and broken families cannot be ignored.

Francis Armstrong | 09 July 2024  

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