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Shifting the goal posts on sports betting

Most people under 25 have never experienced a time when sport and betting were considered separate activities. They’re the first generation to be exposed to saturation gambling advertising from childhood. We know Victorians are concerned. Around 75 per cent think young people are exposed to too much gambling advertising.

This concern is shared by many who live and breathe sport. At a recent event we co-hosted with VicSport, six sporting pros reflected on how betting has changed their game, what this means for our kids, and where to from here.

Discussing the issues were Western Bulldogs Football Club CEO Ameet Bains, Walkley-award-winning sports journalist Greg Baum, Geelong Football Club President Colin Carter AM, Cricket Victoria General Manager of Big Bash League and Commercial David Lever, AFLW Melbourne superstar Daisy Pearce and netball gold-medallist Sharelle McMahon.

Stadiums free of gambling ads

This year, Geelong Football Club removed all gambling advertising from their stadium. ‘These businesses just don’t fit our club’s values,’ Colin Carter said. ‘I’ve got grandchildren and they quote the odds to me. That’s how they’re starting to think about football.’

Ameet Bains said the Western Bulldogs have also committed to not displaying gambling advertising. ‘We play nine home games at Marvel Stadium, which is owned and operated by the AFL, and our ability to control the advertising there is negligible,’ he says. ‘But we play two home games at Mars Stadium in Ballarat and took the similar step to Geelong of moving away from any form of gambling advertising at that venue.’

Geelong and the Western Bulldogs are the first Victorian AFL clubs to not display gambling advertising at their home grounds.

Victoria’s Big Bash League is also proudly free of in-stadium gambling advertising. ‘It would be a real disconnect to have that sort of advertising at our games, when we’re all about families,’ David Lever said.

Kids exposed to gambling through TV ads

The Foundation recently published the first study in the world to examine the extent of gambling advertising on sport TV and non-sport TV, and the extent to which young people are exposed to it. Led by Monash University’s Professor Kerry O’Brien, the study found an average of 374 gambling ads were broadcast daily on Australian free-to-air TV in 2016. There were four times more gambling ads during sport TV than non-sport TV. Two-thirds of the ads were played between 6 am and 8.29 pm, when large numbers of young people were watching.

In March 2018, gambling advertising during live sport broadcasts between 5 am and 8.30 pm was banned in Australia. Greg Baum believes this well-meant initiative has ‘backfired’.

‘The amount of money spent on sports betting advertising has increased, which probably means the ads are pooling elsewhere in programming. And, when we’re talking about live sport, a lot of it is at night anyway. The biggest single sport that screens sports betting ads is AFL and their matches are chiefly at night. On Friday and Saturday nights, when kids watch them anyway.’

As a role model for young players and fans, Sharelle McMahon sees ads featuring prominent sportspeople as particularly concerning. ‘Kids look up to our sportspeople. So, when you’ve got someone endorsing it, it just makes it seem more OK and the right thing to do.’

Daisy Pearce has been approached to endorse betting companies and taken a personal stance against it. ‘Being aware of the impact it has on very impressionable kids that look up to us as role models, I’m not prepared to align with that.’ But she said she’s still put in awkward situations where, by association with the league, ‘you are seen to be endorsing it’.

Making the break

Elite sport is frequently referred to as a ‘hungry beast’: it’s expensive, hence the attraction of lucrative sponsorship deals, and the symbiotic relationships between clubs and betting companies.

Greg Baum remembers the dilemma with smoking advertising, when similar arguments were used. ‘That [the tobacco companies] were tipping so much money into cricket, the game wouldn’t survive without it. Well, it did. And it thrived. There’s a model straightaway for separating those two issues.’

David Lever said making the break would require support from all stakeholders, including broadcasters and media organisations. As the costs of broadcast rights continue to rise, broadcasters must find ways to afford them. ‘A number of us work in media organisations and understand the economics, but they need to come to the table as well.’

Daisy Pearce is happy to be part of stepping up to the challenge of finding revenue from elsewhere. ‘I’d be much more comfortable with that rather than creating a bigger problem.’

‘This is an important issue for all of us,’ Colin Carter said. ‘And it’s worth the fight.’

Watch highlights from the panel discussion held on 9 October 2019 as part of Gambling Harm Awareness Week:

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