This piece was published in the Ballarat Courier on 8 March 2022.
I refer to The Courier's 2 March 2022 sports betting advertorial and want to provide some context regarding the risks associated with gambling and the "normalisation" of sports and betting.
Over recent years, Victoria's 10 AFL clubs have taken a stand against sports gambling promotion and joined the Love the GameSporting Club Program.
In part, this is because the clubs know that Victorian sports fans are tired of betting ads, which in Australia amounted to a staggering spend of $271.3 million in 2020, according to Nielsen.
A 2020 La Trobe University survey of 17,000+ fans from all Victorian AFL clubs found an overwhelming 87 per cent are concerned that young people are overexposed to sports betting ads. And a 2021 AFL Fans Association survey revealed gambling ads are the second highest concern for fans, after umpiring / rule changes.
Victorians are fed up with kids quoting the odds, which inextricably link gambling and sport.
We're troubled that young men (18-24 years) now make up the largest group of sports bettors in Victoria (32%), with participation by young women also on the rise.
And we're concerned about the players themselves. Only days ago, another former AFL player, Dayne Beams, spoke publicly about his battles with gambling and alcohol. He is one of many former players who have bravely come forward to share their personal stories in order to help others.
Cause for concern
At 18, many people embark on a betting journey unaware of the associated risks: financial hardship, emotional distress, family conflict, cultural stresses, difficulty with work or study, and criminal activity.
Sports betting is high-risk. There's almost no limit to the size or quantity of bets that can be placed. Credit cards allow people to gamble more than they can afford. And bets can be placed 24/7, from the palm of your hand.
A 2018 study looked at the motivations, attitudes and behaviours of 400 men aged 18 to 35. It found that those who gambled weekly were significantly more likely to spend more on bets across more sports, use multiple online accounts, be motivated by boredom, and chase losses. And two-thirds said they bet while affected by alcohol, half spending more money or placing more bets than they would have had they not been drinking.
Clubs pushing for change
Several Victorian clubs - Collingwood, Geelong, Melbourne, North Melbourne, Western Bulldogs - no longer receive any revenue from gambling. And the Bulldogs and Geelong have been proactive in removing in-stadium gambling ads at home matches.
These clubs have said that owning gambling venues is not consistent with their values. Former Bulldogs premiership captain Easton Wood told The Project he would take a pay cut in order to put an end to gambling advertising in sport. And two other Bulldogs - Josh Dunkley and Josh Bruce - have raised concerns about children's exposure to sports betting advertising.
Bruce also explained that in the pandemic hubs, AFL players were subjected to: '...abuse after every game, "you've ruined my same game multi, here's my bank details, transfer me this". It got really personal - guys were getting death threats, racist things, I was getting all sorts of horrible comments made about me.'
Love the game, not the odds
There was a time when sports were sponsored by tobacco companies, until the detrimental effects were acknowledged and action was taken. Thirty years on, it seems the gambling industry has stepped into the space tobacco left behind.
Action on sports betting promotion is needed now. In Victoria, we've made a start with Love the Game. The program involves 650+ professional and community clubs across a range of codes. These clubs and associations understand the issue and are responding by refusing to accept sports betting sponsorships.
So, rather than teach young people how to bet - as Neds would have us do - we should help them develop the skills needed to think critically about betting and understand that the gambling industry is the only real sports betting winner.
Anyone negatively affected by their own or someone else's gambling is encouraged to call Gambler's Help, which is available 24/7 on 1800 858 858.
Shane Lucas is the CEO, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation