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The real cost of sports betting

2 October 2015

The real cost of sports betting

Australia is a gold mine for the sports bet industry. We have the dubious honour of being the world’s biggest gamblers and report the largest gambling losses of any country on a per capita basis.

But Australia’s obsession with gambling has resulted in the industry becoming so entrenched in sporting culture that we now measure a team’s success based off the bookie’s odds. Whether our hometown team wins the grand final or if our favourite player scores a try is becoming increasingly less important than if we had the betting combination in place. Football is no longer a ‘game’ or a ‘contest’. The favourite team is no longer the one with the best players, the best win/loss ratio or the home ground advantage - but the team with the shortest odds.

The saturation of betting ads during sport broadcasts highlights how sport has become a commodity that's been taken over by gambling. The gambling industry has become so immersed in sport to the point that many teams, stadiums and television networks are now in commercial agreements with bookmakers. Even after kick off we can still expect to be bombarded with ads. On average, a single AFL match will broadcast 50.5 instances of sports bet marketing.

The lure of the win or the pursuit of losses has certainty attracted more people and larger wagers on events, which is why sport betting is now a billion dollar industry that continues to grow at an exponential rate. But the industry’s growth should not be solely attributed to its accessibility, but rather the tactics it employs to recruit new gamblers.

Sports bet companies shower punters with free offers and giveaways to keep them betting on sport. Clients of gambling companies are constantly bombarded with text messages with the latest odds and multiple ways they can bet on the game’s outcome to keep them betting. This is predatory marketing that targets some of the most vulnerable people in society.

If betting on sport has become the norm then we are heading down a dangerous road. While overall gambling has decreased in Australia, many problem gambling services have noticed a marked increase in the number of people seeking assistance, particularly in the 18-25 age group. In the last three years, the University of Sydney’s Gambling Clinic said the number of young people seeking their treatment had more than doubled. A generation of mostly young men has been groomed to become the industry’s most valuable consumer.

Rather than being viewed as the pinnacle of their respected sports and a celebration of the excellent skills of highly talented athletes, this weekend’s AFL and NRL grand finals will simply be another opportunity for more gambling for many. But despite the obligatory warning to ‘bet with your head, not over it’ the distress caused to gamblers and their families will persist long after the final whistle has been blown.

Gerard Byrne has worked in the field of addiction services for more than 25 years. He currently works for The Salvation Army as the Recovery Services Clinical Director for NSW, QLD & the ACT.

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