Sport and gambling don’t have to go together

Has gambling become the main game for sports fans? Odds are, for some it has. And why not?

You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your lounge room – it’s just the click of a button away.

Access to betting apps makes it easy for underage sports followers to slip into a routine where placing a bet … or two, or three … becomes the norm.

It’s not hard to see why it captures their attention. Gambling advertising is as common as a pub or a hairdresser in a country town.

Not only that, there’s television stations throwing to betting companies before games, and print publications introducing special multi-page betting guides. It’s all having an impact.

Betting is not as simple as picking a winner now. Your footy team is 24 points up and loses? Don’t fear, you’ll still get your money back if you’ve placed a bet online. The line, the margin, first goal kicker, half-time score – you name it, it’s an option.

Former Victorian premier and Hawthorn Football Club president Jeff Kennett came out firing last week, citing smartphone betting as the AFL’s biggest battle. He labelled it a “scourge”, saying some players used their downtime to place bets on horse racing or other sports and “they finish their career without anything at all in terms of cash”.

The AFL Players’ Association speaks to its draftees about the impacts of gambling every year. They’re educated on the pitfalls.

But maybe more needs to be done at the grassroots level, or even in the education system.

It’s not uncommon to hear junior players talking to their mates at country sporting venues about which bet to place.

Older people at the footy who enjoy a punt chat openly about the odds on the next horse race at some track hundreds of kilometres away.

As John Smith flies for a mark of the year contender, heads are down waiting to find out if their punt paid off.

In 2015, an Australian Gambling Research Centre study found that more than 570,000 adults regularly bet on sports. And 41 per cent, or 234,000 adults, experienced one or more gambling problems.

Males (88 per cent) aged between 18 and 49 (75 per cent) accounted for the bulk of the nation’s sports betting.

Gambling is not illegal, and it’s OK to enjoy a flutter. It can be a thrill.

But whatever happened to the special grand final or Melbourne Cup Day bet among family and friends to add a little spice to the contest or race? When did that stop being enough?

Justine McCullagh-Beasy is a Fairfax journalist.