Richard Hinds: Sport in Australia now so linked with gambling, match-fixing not surprising
Richard HindsThe Daily Telegraph
YOU enter stadiums replete with gambling logos.
You are blinded by flashing bookies logos every time you open an app. You are urged to concoct a multi before you have turned the front page.
It seems a long time ago when the annual trip to the TAB to place a $1 each-way bet on the Melbourne Cup was considered, by most families, a mischievous adventure.
Back before sports gambling was legalised in the 1980s and Australia began its rapid ascent on a notorious league ladder. Before we became the biggest gambling nation in the world per-capita with $23.6 billion wagered in 2014.
Of course gambling was common before then, even endemic. But, outside the pokie palaces, the effort taken to gamble underscored the risk. The sticky carpet and seedy characters in the local TAB were far removed from the faux glitz of the casino. The ease of placing a bet by hitting a laptop key was unthinkable.
Now? We are submerged by a cradle-to-grave gambling culture in which children’s games are cynically calibrated to stimulate risk-reward impulses and create gamblers-for-life.
Yet betting’s acceptable new faces assure us the consequences are no more serious than when you placed that $1 Melbourne Cup bet – just “gamble responsibly’’!
Our national gambling addiction does not fully explain the allegations of match-fixing levelled against up to six unnamed Manly players. Match-fixing was a problem for sport almost from the moment they invented the scoreboard.
The notorious Chicago Black Sox scandal that penetrated the 1919 World Series remains the most notorious example of match-fixing. It took place at a time when gambling was a dark sub-culture. Not the deeply embedded national hobby it has become in Australia.
But as the gambling deepens so too does the ocean of gambling money. As cashed-up, often bored and even depressed players gamble to while away the non-training hours, their vulnerability becomes greater. As the shysters and criminals find their way into the sheds, the relationship between match-fixer and match day is created.
The proliferation of sports gambling has strengthened the links in this chain. With sports now clearly branded as part of the gambling industry it stands to reason athletes will consider gambling the way they might consider PlayStation games.
Anyone remotely close to top-flight sport has heard the stories. The AFL player who left town because of death threats from a bookie. The NRL player who abandoned his long-time club for a more lucrative deal to pay gambling debts. The desperate addicts caught fleecing the wallets of teammates in the sheds.
These are every-day gambling tales. Match-fixing is at another level. The Manly allegations beg the question why players earning hundreds of thousands of dollars would risk their livelihoods for $50,000 — still a relatively miniscule sum given the life-time earning capacity of an NRL player.
The Manly case remains subject to investigation. But, in a general sense, anyone with an addiction or who has been entangled in the tentacles of organised criminals will have a quick answer.
The sting that uncovered match-fixing at a suburban Melbourne soccer club arranged by off-shore bookies and the allegation of widespread spot-fixing that arose during the Australian Open tennis are merely a couple of recent examples of how greed, addiction and organised crime combine. And why only the naïve are still astonished by the idea match-fixing could happen on such a public stage as the NRL.
Australian sport has conveniently created a chicken and egg situation in which it justifies its lucrative gambling deals — $60 million for the NRL from Sportsbet — with the necessity to gain access to bookmaker’s information.
Sport flatters itself that it is the one participant in the gambling industry that can’t lose. Not until an administrator is sitting in front of a media conference addressing match-fixing allegations and trying to stuff the betting genie back into a very empty bottle.