You can no longer turn on the television to watch sport without being bombarded by ads for betting companies. Before the game odds, live updates on how the odds are changing and ridiculous betting options no one cares about are pasted all over the screen. Almost all major sports are being infiltrated by betting agencies. I counted 12 separate ads in half an hour of an AFL broadcast, without including the billboards surrounding the ground that are always in the background of the action. Even SBS, the channel known for being less commercialized, feels it necessary to post odds and telephone numbers to bet with a credit card before the soccer begins. But this issue is deeper than just an annoying interruption during sport, it sets a dangerous precedent where betting becomes an ingrained part of our culture and a dangerous trap for young people.
Tom Waterhouse is perhaps the worst offender with his faux-artistic black and white ads which are featured multiple times each ad break. Taking betting advertising to the next level, Waterhouse bought his way into the Channel 9 commentary team, at least for rugby league in NSW – a multi-million dollar deal over 5 years. This didn’t go unnoticed; a parliamentary hearing in March led to him being banned from appearing next to the Channel 9 commentary team and also ruled that he must be identified as a bookmaker rather than a Channel 9 personality. While Waterhouse has tried to signal his good intentions by helping fund the investigation into drug use in Australian sport, his real intent was made clear with the statement “I’m offering odds of $1.85 that everything will turn out all right in the end. And as a special offer this weekend, bet with me and, if your team is beaten by a favourite found to be on performance-enhancing drugs, I’ll give you your money back up to the value of $25.” Waterhouse doesn’t miss a trick and will use any chance to lighten the pockets of punters or draw a new victim into his clutches.
To watch American basketball live, I’ve had to create my own online Sportsbet account. I paid $20, the minimum deposit allowed, but withdrew down to $1 to ensure I can still view games. The website is covered in ridiculous first time bet offers designed to snare people and their credit card details into the system: 2 bets for the price of one, $50 for referring a friend and money back if you sign up to bet on certain teams. They can try their hardest to tempt my $1 away from me, but the constant pressure highlights the dangers associated with gambling; the bookies will do anything to draw you in and keep you spending money.
With iPhone apps and online betting accounts becoming commonplace, there appears to be no escape from the presence of betting agencies. One wonders how much further they can infiltrate our culture. There are already options to bet on the location of Melbourne’s third airport, Nobel Prize winners, the name of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s baby and Julia Gillard’s chances of retaining her job as PM. How long will it be before Peter Hitchener no longer quotes a Nielson 2-party preferred poll but crosses to a Sportsbet correspondent for the latest prices on the upcoming election?
In the United States, they have banned all betting advertising during broadcasting of NFL games to prevent the blurring of the line between sports and betting. There are associated problems with illegal betting as a result, but why can’t the Australian government follow the lead of the US and ban betting ads during live sports? After all, we seem to follow the US blindly on everything else they do.
In May, The Senate Committee on Gambling Reform is presenting their guidelines for promotions of gambling in sport. We can only hope they help prevent gambling from becoming an ingrained part of our culture, rid us of repetitive betting ads and Tom Waterhouse’s smarmy face from our TV screens.