Monday, 2 April 2012

B is for... Betting

Mobile betting is increasingly popular
At home we’re bombarded with the odds for each game. They’re covered extensively in sports shows, and every third advert on a sports channel seems to be from a betting agency. You can even place bets from your phone (“the greatest invention since betting”), and the markets available are extensive. For a soccer match as well as the traditional bets – match result, match score, first goalscorer – you can also bet on any number of “exotics”, ranging from the number of corners each team receives, to the first player to pick up a yellow card.

Sports betting is here to stay and is likely to become even more prominent in the foreseeable future. However the rise of sports betting asks some uneasy questions, which the people running our favourite games are often too unwilling (or afraid) to address. Let’s take a look at some of these issues, and what could be done about them.

The integrity of the game

Last year three Pakistani cricketers were given jail terms for spot-fixing in a Test match against England. Their indiscretion was rather minor in the context of the game; two of the bowlers elected to bowl no-balls at specific points in the game. A no-ball in cricket occurs when the bowler oversteps the mark from which he has to release the ball behind. They’re not uncommon in a Test cricket match, perhaps occurring once every 50 balls, and result in 1 additional run for the batting team. In a game when both teams bat twice and regularly score 300+ runs in an innings, a couple of additional no-balls would rarely affect the result of the game. However, by the course of their actions the Pakistani cricketers undoubtedly affected the integrity of the game, and were heavily punished in a court of law.

One of the deliberate no-balls
Betting on no-balls is not a commonly available bet on the market (the no-ball bets were placed on the black market), but the scandal raised questions about how easily other types of exotic bets could be manipulated. For example, it wouldn’t be particularly difficult for a soccer player to ensure that he picks up the first yellow or red card in a game without suspicion being raised – late tackles are commonplace in football, and one could be easily made to look accidental.

How much underground spot-fixing occurs is, of course, a great unknown, but in an industry where millions of dollars are wagered each week you can be sure that it happens. The increase in the popularity of sports betting, and in particular exotic bets, has affected sporting outcomes, and as such the integrity of the games we love have also been indelibly tarnished. 

The social effect

The U.K. sports betting firm Skybet has a tagline, “it matters more when there’s money on it”. For anyone who has ever bet on a sporting outcome this probably rings true; your interest and feelings are heightened when your finances are affected by what happens. This underlying excitement is, I believe, one of the underlying reasons why gambling is so addictive. Unfortunately many people are unable to control their gambling habits, with studies indicating that almost 5% of adults are classified as ‘lifetime at-risk problem gamblers’.

The growing prominence of betting in the professional sports arena does nothing to help this situation. From a young age children are subjected to betting odds, with the negative aspects of gambling rarely mentioned in the media. I can’t help but feel that too many sporting administrators are happy to take the money from the gambling industry without thinking about the problems it causes. Rather than tying themselves to the betting industry, sporting institutions should be doing more to warn against the dangers of problem gambling. Innovations such as mobile betting only serve to exacerbate the problem; studies need to be conducted to see their effect, and how they can be better policed for people’s own welfare.

The story of the Saints

Professional sport is a business, and with that comes the demands of staying competitive, which costs an increasing amount of money. St Kilda were one of the most successful teams over the 2009 & 2010 AFL seasons, finishing 1st and 3rd in the regular seasons and reaching the Grand Final on both occasions. However the club was also very insular over this period, creating a much talked about ‘bubble’ around the playing group. This, combined with a series of off-field indiscretions, led to a couple of years of negative press for the team. A number of sponsors decided to jump ship or downgrade their sponsorship, leaving the Saints with no major sponsor heading into 2011.

The Saints coach in their new training gear
The Saints struggled to find a replacement major sponsor, before finally signing with Centrebet in February 2011. St Kilda prides itself on being a family-friendly club, so the issue of choosing a betting agency as the major sponsor, with their logo being prominent on many pieces of apparel, troubled some of their supporters. When questioned about their choice of major sponsor at the club’s AGM, the president indicated that they had little choice; they needed the money and there weren’t many sponsors lining up.

As a supporter of the club, I’m hopeful that the Saints don’t have to rely on the support of a betting agency in the long term. I understand that the decision was made to offset the financial losses that recently occurred (some $1.5 million in 2011), but would like to think that the Saints can find an alternative source of income in the future. However I’m concerned that the club will follow the path of the governing body it plays under, and become more and more dependent on this money as time passes.

What can be done?

The most obvious way to minimise the negative effects of sports betting would be to limit the amounts that can be wagered. I also think that the types of bets allowed should be strictly policed, with exotic bets only allowed for big sporting events (such as the Superbowl, Champions League Final, or AFL Grand Final), where the outcome is unlikely to be compromised. Understandably the betting agencies are reluctant to do this, but I believe that the integrity of the sports industry is paramount and should be the foremost priority of the governing bodies of sport.

I have no problems with people betting responsibly and within their own needs, but feel that the blanket advertising by betting firms needs to be severely limited. Education about the effect of problem gambling on families and communities needs to be more prominent, and gambling messages should always carry a warning on them, much like tobacco does. Something needs to be done before the problem gets completely out of hand, and I hope that there are some brave individuals in prominent positions in sporting institutions who are willing to raise the issue, and try to bring about a change for the long-term good of sport.

These are just my thoughts on the matter; how do you feel about sports betting? Do you know anyone affected by problem gambling, and do you think more should be done by the governing bodies in sport, or perhaps even by state or national governments?


  1. When Kate and William got married, people were betting on what colour dress the Queen would wear. That's my kinda betting!

  2. I think it's definitely an issue that the government should be involved in policing betting in general, but we all know how likely it is that will happen.
    I've only ever placed bets at horse racing carnivals and even then I feel like it's a terrible waste of money given the odds.