A Dud Bet

For once, I’m doing pretty well in my footy tipping competition this year.  Equal 6th out of 246 in fact.  It’s a bit of fun and there’s the prospect of turning $20 into several hundred at season’s end.

But last weekend my tips suddenly went pear-shaped and I found myself, late on Sunday, urging on the Kangaroos in their profligate and ultimately unsuccessful efforts to knock off St Kilda.  I had no real interest in the game or the teams.  But there I was getting angry and frustrated – all for the sake of getting a 50/50 tip right.

I reflected on how little I enjoyed the experience. I imagined that this was a small taste of what it must be like to be a desperate punter, down on my luck, squandering my last few dollars in the hope of “getting out” on the last at the Cranbourne dogs.

This feeling, combined with the news that some dill had dropped a million dollars on Geelong the night before, crystallised in my mind what had previously been just a vague sense of disquiet about the unhealthy prominence being given to gambling on AFL matches.

It’s been alarmingly noticeable this year.  The odds are now a mandatory part of any discussion of upcoming matches on panel shows.  Footy coverage is saturated with ads and “market updates” from sports betting agencies.  It’s even worse at matches where “in-play” odds are regularly posted on the scoreboard.  How must the players feel when the quarter and three-quarter time coaches’ addresses are competing with the ground announcer bellowing the latest Betfair odds on their prospects of winning?

It’s obscene enough that anyone would be both willing and able to risk a million bucks on a game of football.  But what I find most deplorable in the promotion of this nonsense is the underlying premise that betting on football provides a greater thrill than simply experiencing the game for its own sake.  Is merely barracking for a team so unsophisticated and old-fashioned that the modern fan needs to pep it up with a wager on the result?  What sort of message is all this sending to the next generation of supporters?

I know there are plenty of members of the Almanac community who are keen punters, and I won’t insult their intelligence by suggesting a total ban on football betting just because my puritan streak says it diminishes rather than enhances the pleasure of the game.  However, my related concern – that the AFL is increasingly at risk of a major gambling-related scandal which would significantly harm the integrity of the competition – should give cause for serious reflection.

Of course, betting scandals can and have occurred whether gambling is legal, illegal, prominent or low-key.  However, I don’t think it’s too great a leap in logic to assume that the more betting there is on games, the more money is at stake and, therefore, the greater the likelihood that attempts to influence results will be made.

As the experience in cricket has shown, once a scandal has occurred, it is nigh on impossible for the sport to regain its former purity.  Imagine a future AFL in which upset results like those that took place at the weekend were viewed with suspicions about who was laying seven figure bets rather than being confidently explained as part of the glorious uncertainty of our great competition.



About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships. After 30 September 2017, his mum is now officially his favourite person.


  1. Clearsighted says:

    Well said, Stainless.
    Big money, quarter by quarter odds, umpires wired for sound, betting companies sponsoring the AFL and some clubs….it only takes is one dubious link in the chain for the integrity of the game to be permanently sullied.
    All very, very possible.

  2. Andrew Fithall says:

    Don’t fall for that “someone has had a million dollars on…” It is simply a betting company looking for some free publicity. As my (professional punter) friend said, they do it all the time, For example when Lonhro was running at short odds on, betting firms would state they were holding so many bets of such ridiculous magnitudes. A small portion of the statements may be true but the rest is just publicity seeking codswallop. Part of the motivation is also to put in the minds of potential punters that betting in such large sums is normal behaviour.

  3. Rick Kane says:

    That, Andrew, is even more alarming and dispiriting. As Clearsighted observed just one comment previous and 19 minutes earlier, “It takes one dubious link in the chain of integrity”.

    Stainless, thank you for a timely article. Again, it’s the creeping acceptance that makes it harder to put your finger on what is essentially going on and what are the real problems. I certainly don’t buy the argument that it’s all a bit of fun and anyone who sees differently is a wowser. In my bleakest moment I can draw the parallel between the harmless fun of betting and the elevation of the stockholder above the citizen in seemingly democratic countries and then the collapse of a financial system … just don’t get me started :)

  4. david butler says:

    I would love to see you draw that parallel Rick, I am intrigued !

  5. Rick Kane says:

    Okay, here goes Mr Butler,

    It goes to the question of how and why the community endorse certain behaviours. Gambling is one such behaviour (as in, it is considered a national past-time, part of the Australian character). That’s all good and well, but it masks the deleterious effects gambling has on individuals, families, communities and the country. That masking has even occurred in the name gambling itself where it is now, in many quarters, called gaming.

    On a deeper level, it reinforces a context in which we live our lives, government drives policy and business operates. Gambling and playing the stock market are not dissimilar, at least in regard to the psychological relationship between the gambler and the market. The more government and business endorse the notion of ‘winning and being successful by adding value through betting/trading’ the more the context which values the shareholder and gambler is reinforced.

    20 years ago, shareholder was a much less commonly used term than today. The ‘Greed is Good’ mentality brilliantly satirized in the film ‘Wall Street’ is now one of the tectonic plates on which we live. People play the stock market looking for a big win, people watch as the price of their house rises, oblivious to the harm overheated stock or housing markets cause.

    Now it is not uncommon to hear that a company is more indebted to its shareholders than to their customers (Banks, Telcos, for example). Multi-national mining conglomerates dictate government policy (No Mining Tax) at the expense of the national interest. Unless the national interest is about shoring up better dividends and returns for share holders. A Mum and Dad in Preston, put their savings into a shares portfolio, hoping to make money enough to afford to send their kids to Uni without understanding that the companies they have invested in are screwing over communities in another country. They’re betting, mixing risk and capital, without having to contemplate the tentacles of that bet.

    During the same 20 year period there has been an exponential growth in gaming houses, the gambling industry and the reach of gambling into our daily lives. (I am not trying to tie the growth of the value of the shareholder and the value of gambling together but they are not at all strange bedfellows). An outsider could quite easily identify a fixation on gambling in the community and that is not abating.

    An ongoing resentment expressed on this website is how the commercialisation of football affects the simple enjoyment of the game. That is, the AFL is a billion dollar enterprise. That enterprise is generated by the deep, deep desire of the game and the money that can be made out of it. The money is generated in multiple ways, one of which is gambling.

    So, the correlations I see between gambling and playing the stock market are:
    • the acts are similar,
    • the psychology is similar,
    • there has been a similar rise in value of shareholder and gambling over 20 years or so

    What it means I don’t know. As I said in my original post, in my bleakest moments I feel worried, very worried. That is not to say that every punter will go off the rails or that every share holder is evil. Of course they’re not. However, living in a time when the share market has the extraordinary power it has (as witnessed by the world financial collapse several years ago) and outlets and ways to gamble have widened immeasurably should give us reason to pause. The fact that at the heart of each activity lies the seeds of greed is not exactly comforting.

  6. As someone with a mother who has committed her fortnightly pension to the horses and pokies for the better part of two decades, I despise the gambling industry.

    Ignoring tattered clothing, an empty pantry, medical ailments including cataracts which have significantly diminished her eyesight, and a mounting debt on credit cards offered to her by Corporations who did not care that she was unable to afford them, she continues attempting to “double” her money and claims that she does “it for fun and it is an outlet.”

    We have tried to get help, but she contends she does not have a problem. There is nothing else we can do but make sure she has decent clothing, food in the pantry and regular medical attention.

    Ironically, I’m the one who encouraged her to have her first bet. It was a Melbourne Cup. It was a bit of fun. I was a casual punter and she, a good Christian, was totally against it. It took several Melbourne Cups to coax her but finally she relented. I got bored with the punt many years ago. She never has.

    Freedom of choice is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society and people use it to justify (or attempt to justify) all manner of things. In some circumstances though, our governing bodies must enforce restrictions and remove freedoms for the well being of those who are being hurt that freedom.

    We do not have the freedom to use narcotics. We are restricted in how much alcohol we can consume. We are unable to drive our cars as quickly as we would like. These restrictions have been implemented for the good of society because though those freedoms may only be abused by a minority, the impact on society as a whole is unacceptable.

    The impact on my mother is unacceptable. She has also lost control. And for those who say, “it’s her choice. She just simply needs to stop,” I say problem gambling is recognised as an addiction and addictions can be defined as a “compulsive dependence”.

    What really irks me though is those most affected are the ones who can least afford it. Survey after survey shows that. The churning of tax dollars that results from gambling is actually State-funded support for the adage, “The rich get richer and the poor poorer.” With each ‘re-investment’ of their pension checks, the Governments take the lion’s share back but a share goes to the profiteers who own the gambling houses.

    This is bad economics and is the opposite of what should be happening as far as distribution of wealth goes.

    I may be biased, but to me gambling serves no actual purpose and is of no actual benefit to our society. I certainly don’t see it in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

    Rick, I’d rather my mother have shares because at least she would not lose her investment in one foul swoop. That rarely happens in the stock market. That’s the difference between gambling and investing in the stock market.

    I would not miss gambling if it were no longer a part of our lives. My mum would, but she’d be the better for it.

    Footnote: I’m being idealistic to a degree. The issue of illegal gambling will no doubt be raised by people and that creates a far darker and more dangerous environment for those drawn into it. I imagine there would be far fewer people damaged however.

  7. david butler says:

    Rick, I wasn’t being flippant when I asked how you drew the parallel I was genuinely interested. I do agree with you in relation to the elevation of stockholders above the ordinary individual and indeed the assumption that those lucky enough to grab a quid are seen as smarter, prettier, funnier, more worthy etc. I am not sure, speaking as the archetypal dill who has devoted enormous amounts of time, money and energy to gambling, that the gambler and the stockholder are similarly viewed by the wider community.

    I think that government and institutions (such as the AFL) are giving people permission to engage in risk taking and potentially damaging behaviour as part of their quest for capital growth ( which seems to be their reason for existing ). As a person who regularly appears in court for people guilty of alcohol related crimes I am more concerned with the permission which groups such as the AFL give individuals to consume alcohol. Try getting through the AFL website to find an in play score without being reminded to drink Carlton Draught.

  8. Rick Kane says:

    I understand David, it was agood question. The gambler is represented in almost contrary ways. On one hand, there are positive connotation and on the other, the not so positive. My emphasis was more the context in which the act of gambling is nurtured and given credence, without equal regard for associated harms. Pete’s example of his mother is a simple, sad case in point.

    Likewise (and on a more esoteric and profound way) so the concept of shareholder has risen in value against the concept of citizen.

    As to the charge against alcohol, I agree. And I think Pete made a pretty good point on that issue as well.


  9. Well expressed, Stainless and a thoughtful general discussion. The best line I have heard on the relationship between sport and legal gambling was by Gideon Haigh on Offsiders a few weeks back. He said sports “were taking a slow action poison”. I think he is right as it has a creeping, insidious effect on the morality and behaviour of both sporting administrators and participants. Where do you draw the line when the $’s on offer are so large? Of course the same is true for the effects on both individual gamblers and society as a whole. Creeping impoverishment to line the pockets of the Packers, shareholders and State Treasuries.
    I am not an abolitionist, despite the damage done. The most sensible option would be just to ban pro-gambling advertising, and run a strong ‘anti’ campaign to change attitudes and culture over time. Over 40 years that approach has had an amazing positive effect on curtailing smoking rates, without curtailing anyone’s civil liberties. Smoking was costing government a fortune in health care costs, so they acted creatively against it. State governments are more addicted to the growing gambling revenue stream than the punt drunks. They are the classic ‘foxes in charge of the hen house’. Responsible gambling and consumption of alcohol codes are just convenient figleafs to obscure the guilt and complicity of governments and the gambling industry.
    The good news is the real communities like Almanackers and 12 Step Groups that create a greatly enriched life for those who are able to come out the other end. I read an American social researcher who said that while church attendance was falling, it was in the ‘Wednesday night meetings’ of these sort of groups that real community and spirituality is being reborn. I know that to be true.

  10. Skip of Skipton says:

    If you want to put your inner-totalitarian wowser to good use, then rail against poker machines. That’s where the lesser members of the proletariat need saving from themselves. As for the rest of us personally responsible folk, who are capable and motivated to employ the critical thought involved in assessing form and finding ‘value’ before speculating, please butt out.

  11. Skip,
    I respect your right to invest strategically and more power to you for that. I cannot see one comment above that would deny you that right.
    As for saying the problem is only pokies, you are dead wrong. That may be the most prevalent but it is not the sole source of vulnerabilty and exploitation. Vulnerability knows no boundaries of class or intelligence. It is an emotional vulnerability not an intellectual one. So be careful where and how you use words like ‘lesser’ or ‘inner totalitarian wowser’. This is a forum for debate. Put your views strongly, but don’t disparage those with a different perspective and life experience. So I have no intention of ‘butting out’.
    Absolute freedom for the sharks, is death for the minnows.

  12. Tim Ivins says:

    @Andrew Fithall,

    ‘Don’t fall for that “someone has had a million dollars on It is simply a betting company looking for some free publicity. As my (professional punter) friend said, they do it all the time… A small portion of the statements may be true but the rest is just publicity seeking codswallop.’

    I wonder how this would be covered under truth in advertising laws. I have a feeling it’s not covered at all and therefore they should be tightened. Publicity is a form of Advertising, but it seems that there are no checks and balances in here to reflect that. Nothing to protect the consumer at all.

  13. Brendan Fevola and David Schwarz would attest that a gambling addiction does not limit itself to one form of gambling (eg.pokies). Anecdotally, it is all consuming once trapped.

    I think this discussion dovetails well into “The crumbs that fall from the AFL table” posted by Ludeman. In that post, a side discussion evolved about the role of community and the importance of volunteers, and about how people in cities had become narcissistic, selfish and detached from community.


    Social Capital V Financial Capital. Australia is a great country because the two have worked hand-in-hand. There has been a definite shift however in the past 2 decades. The focus on ‘what we do’ (particularly for each other) was an Aussie trademark. ‘What we have’ is now a key driver and this encourages people to be more selfish. Philosophical question: How much of the wealth that ends up in the hands of the wealthy minority should be redistributed back to the people, groups and communities (grassroots) that formed the “funnel” that delivered the that wealth to the wealthy minority? Depends on whether you’re left or right.

    Shareholder V Citizen. At what point do we set the ‘collateral damage” threshold. Selfishness is good to a point. It has helped deliver the benefits we have as a society. But living in a society means that we must often consider the impacts that our wants have on others. And there will be times where what we want is detrimental to those around us, or indeed to the wider community. How long do we “butt out” and turn a blind eye to obvious issues being faced by others in our community? How many people do allow to be damaged before we, as a collective, say enough is enough?

  14. Mark Doyle says:

    An interesting discussion! I agree with Rick that there no difference between gambling on the Stock Exchange or the TAB or some corporate bookmaker. However, I do not accept that it is part of the Australian character. Gambling is a popular pastime in most parts of the world – Europe, China, Japan, India, America etc. I think this discussion is an overreaction to the introduction of poker machines in Victoria in the last 20 odd years plus an increase in betting with corporate bookmakers during the same time. It is worth noting that there is a public benefit of gambling with state government revenue and sponsor support for sport. It is further worth noting that gambling in Victoria did not start 20 odd years ago. The history of gambling goes back to the 19th century. It is my understanding that problem gamblers account for a small percentage of total gamblers. I also believe that most poker machine clubs provide benefits to local communities such as social meeting places and support to local sport. I suspect that most people who become problem gamblers do not have other interests such as reading, playing bridge, travel, playing sport, volunteer work etc.

  15. Stainless says:

    Thanks all for the great discussion on this.

    It’s understandable that many of the comments have focussed on the harm done to individual problem gamblers – and Pete’s story is indeed a profoundly sad one. However, for every story like this there are plenty of others like Skip of Skipton who will vigorously argue the freedom of choice line.

    I must admit that I waver in my views about protecting people from harm (or is it protecting them from their own stupidity?). I confess to finding the mathematics of in-play betting quite intriguing. But then again, I don’t bet. Moreover, I’ve been fortunate in not having to deal with someone with a gambling addiction. I guess my main point here is that the promotion and glorification of gambling must have an impact in persuading otherwise rational people to do something that, deep down, they know is irrational.

    However, my primary motivation for writing this piece was not to discuss problem gambling as such, but to explore the “slow poison” theory, as it is so nicely put by Mr Haigh. Whilst I agree with this description and its “creeping, insidious effects”, my concern is that the ultimate consequences may actually be swift and dramatic for the sport that we love so much if it was to be hit by gambling-related corruption.

    Rick’s comparison between gambling and the stock exchange is highly relevant here in that we’re talking about forms of speculation that have the potential to go belly-up and destroy institutions that we as a community hold dear.

    The real tragedy of stock market crashes is that they wipe out companies and jobs and ruin the lives of thousands of people who played no part in assembling the whole shoddy house of cards in the first place. My fear with the growing inter-dependency between sporting competitions and sports betting institutions is that the equivalent of a “crash” will occur (i.e. a major betting scandal). When it does, we, as supporters, will suffer whether we’re gamblers or not, because the integrity of an institution that has given us countless hours of enjoyment will be irreparably damaged.

  16. Rick Kane says:

    Hi Mark Doyle

    I may not have explained myself clearly enough on a couple of points. First, I didn’t mean to suggest that Australians relate to gambling more or less than any other country or culture. I meant merely to highlight that gambling has been an identifiable characteristic of the Australian way.

    Also, I used the ’20 year’ marker simply to guide a point. The phrase “creeping” that has been used in this discussion is much more apt as it captures both an arbitrary time period and acknowledges the movement of a practice and mindset over a much longer period. To fully develop this argument, you would have to draw in much bigger societal developments, the biggest being the rise and rise of capitalism.

    And I agree that there are many benefits gambling offers people and communities. The question is, how to weigh the benefits against the burdens. I have attached a link to news piece that may be of interest.



  17. It’s a very serious topic and I won’t be flippant.

    Stainless, “desperate” punters are sad.
    Corporate bookies are greedy.
    It is a beautiful match.
    The intrusion on our lives is unacceptable. 12 yr olds will quote the odds of matches…too soon think that they understand the concept of “good odds”. They have no idea. Few do.

    I joined a tipping comp in the late 80s for an interest. It worked for a while then I began to care too much about the result. It stopped being enjoyable.

    The Dreamteamers have that effect on me nowadays. Outcomes driving interest.

  18. Mark Doyle says:

    Thanks for the link on gambling Rick. The figures seem extraordinary to me and make my gambling of an $8 tattslotto ticket every 3-4 weeks seem insignificant. I like your reference to the rise of capitalism. Blokes such as Ted Wheelwright and Laurie Aarons would be turining in their grave about our contemporary deregulated society. To use a marxism, I suspect most of the problem gamblers live alone and are alienated from their communities – family, neighbours, friends etc. I also believe this alienation is more common in the suburbs of our major cities. To finish a good note, I saw a good news story on the Deutsche Welle TV program ‘In Focus’ (Channel 31 at 12.30pm) yesterday. Some middle aged bloke in a small town in Germany has facilited a very successful social interaction program between old people in a retirement home and the local kids and teenagers. The oldies help kids make cubby houses and bird boxes and teenagers help the oldies with using mobile phones and computers. Everyone is happier!

  19. Stainless says:

    In the light of the breaking news about Heath Shaw, I don’t like to say I told you so, but…

  20. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Great article Stainless and some fantastic comments I also stopped going in tipping competitions as I was caring way too much about the result not enjoying the game .
    As a cricket lover we all wonder as soon as something unusual or a upset occurs are we to ignorant to think spot betting couldn’t get in to footy and wonder about such things as , Rances errant kick v the bombers ? We’ll done to the people who can bet responsibly and just have a bit of fun but I observe far more who can’t and it is a huge problem on line gambling adds to this far more education from a young age of the dangers and pit falls of gambling is needed thanks , Stainless

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