In the week leading up to the AFL Victoria 2018 “Love the Game” themed round, we caught up with Darren Crocker. Darren was a versatile North Melbourne player for 14 years, notching up 165 games, with a few injuries in between. He is currently North Melbourne’s Director of Coaching and Midfield Coach.
Darren particularly appreciates the “Love the Game” round because it serves as a reminder to fans, club officials and players that the game, at the grass roots or professional level, retains its pure spirit, despite the increasingly aggressive presence of sports betting promotions and advertising.
North Melbourne famously took a stand in not relying on poker machines or gambling sponsorship. Is that an initiative that resonates with you?
It does. For a start I have no interest in the pokies whatsoever. For me, sitting in front of a poker machine would be like watching paint dry. And you’d have to be tuned out of the real world to know that they seem to do a lot of harm to a lot of people. My biggest concern though is the prevalence of gambling ads, and how much they’re getting intertwined with sport. And I’m not totally against gambling.
I do like a bet on the horses, especially in the Spring carnival, and as a social event. I grew up in a household where my father was a bookie’s penciller, and so I had exposure to horse racing from a very young age. Going off to the races and given a dollar to pick out a horse I liked in the stalls. I was very aware that gambling should be treated as a hobby, and that if you treat it responsibly, put a few boundaries around it, that’s all it ever becomes.
What’s changed since you were a boy?
What I didn’t grow up with is the amount of advertising for gambling in sport, which is very prevalent today. And of course there’s the online access that I can see is a huge issue with kids. I have four kids myself: daughters aged 20 and 16, and sons aged 18 and 12. Recently, there was a little bit of talk at home with the boys about what a terrific game Shaun Higgins had on the weekend, and suddenly people were speaking about him as a potential Brownlow medallist. My boys were able to jump online and find what are the odds he’s getting to win the Brownlow. That, to me, is a concern.
So how do you handle that, as a father?
There are a few issues that are worth talking about with your kids. The first is what they’re being exposed to. The easy access to betting online is a difficult issue for parents and your kids need to know the risks they’re facing. It might be illegal for my 12 year old to have a bet but that doesn’t stop him being primed for gambling – and really, there are plenty of under-aged kids being drawn into betting illegally. So that’s one conversation to have.
What are some of the risks facing young people?
The current environment encourages you to bet on every little thing. It’s not just a horse race these days. It’s not even just the outcome of a football game if you want to go that far – and regardless of me being not allowed to bet on football, it has never interested me. But these days, via the betting agencies, you can bet on so many different aspects of a single game.
And where does that get you? Well, they talk about crime – or let’s just call it getting in trouble – being a result of motive and opportunity.
One of the big risks for kids is learning that you can lose money on a bet in the first quarter of a game – and then spend the rest of that game chasing that loss. It takes their focus away from the thrill of the game itself to the thrill of the chase for a win. And that’s an unhealthy way to live your life. Because it means betting is becoming your whole life and I’ve never heard a happy ending to that story. Obviously, too, above all else, I’m for promoting the love of the game.
Do you have advice on how to bet safely, if you’re going to bet at all?
The other advice I’d have for kids, especially with an 18 year old who is now legally old enough to bet, is to bet within your means and never chase your losses. My advice on how to keep it fun, is to bet small. You’re less likely to be chasing a $2 loss, and you’re less likely to develop the mentality that you’re going to win big and retire rich. That’s how I stayed away from the dangers of punting too much. It was about the fun of it more than the money.
What’s your view on betting as a social activity?
On the one hand, I think it’s important to have people around you, and keep your focus on having fun with your mates instead of being drawn into an obsessive chase for a win. I’d liken it to having a drink with your mates being a healthy thing, as opposed to drinking alone, which isn’t so healthy.
The question is: are they good mates? Because what can easily happen, is you can be egged on to put on more money and take bigger risks. That’s a well-documented problem.
Should it go the other way? Should mates be keeping an eye on one another?
I’d certainly encourage my kids – and my players – to speak up if they think one of their mates is getting into trouble. It takes a bit of courage sometimes to be a good friend. He might drop you as a mate, but if you see him overstepping the line, be it around drinking too much or gambling too much, you’re doing the right thing by reaching out.
What’s your final word?
The ancient historian Hesiod probably said it best: “Observe due measure, moderation is best in all things.”