Today is Melbourne Cup day. The day of the “race that stops a nation”. The day every man, woman and dog has a punt on the horses.
Today will see an awful lot of money wagered on the Cup. You could call it an obscene amount of money. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be bet on the race, most of it on losing horses. Some money will be won, but most of it will be lost.
Am I brimming with outrage? Seething with repressed fury at the wave of betting that has descended upon our nation?
The Melbourne Cup is not the problem. It’s an iconic race that draws the once-a-year punters and really does stop the nation. I remember, when I was living in Sydney several years ago, being bemused when my daughter’s primary school help a Cup Day parade for the Melbourne Cup. It’s a race that is bigger than either the racing or gambling industries in this country, but it’s generally not the domain of the serious punter. A mate of mine, himself a dedicated student of the form guide, once told me that it was the biggest mug’s race of the year; he placed hundreds of dollars of bets every week, but he NEVER bet on the Melbourne Cup.
The Melbourne Cup is a one-off event. It draws huge crowds of once-a-year gamblers who’ll blow $20 or $30 with no expectation of getting it back, and who won’t back up the next day, or the next week, to do it all again.
No. The problem, as usual, is the industry. The sports betting industry that is so intent on ramming the Cup, the Spring Carnival and everything in between down our throats to MAKE us want to have a flutter. The bookmakers who blanket the airwaves with ads for their services on every TV channel, radio station and newspaper. The online betting agencies who buy up billboards, plaster our railway stations with advertising and have specially branded trams chugging through the CBD. Therein lies the problem. They want you opening an account with them, so that they can market to you over and over again, encouraging you to continue betting with them. It’s their standard operating practice.
The sports betting landscape in Australia has shifted. Giant overseas firms like Ladbrokes and William Hill have moved in, buying out the local bookmakers and launching their own brands. They’ve invested heavily in our market and they demand a return.
Accessibility is also a growing concern. Online betting and mobile apps have brought the TAB (in a startling variety of forms) to our fingertips; gone are the days when you had to head down to the actual bricks-and-mortar TAB on Cup day and join the queue if you wanted to place your bets. That accessibility brings the poker machine methodology to racing and sports betting; quick, easy and repeatable bets. It’s a situation fraught with danger, and William Hill are pushing the boundaries even further with their yet-to-be-proved-legal “in-play” betting service.
Even the willingness of our media services to promote and glamorise the gambling side of the equation is problematic. News articles about betting options and lucky punters are suddenly mainstream, and bookies are popping up on sports broadcasts at an alarming rate. As I write this, an article about Tom Waterhouse placing a large bet has been the top headline on The Age’s website for over six hours.
It’s this incredible saturation of gambling promotion and coverage that is the issue. This is where the normalisation of gambling comes from; not the Cup, but rather the way it’s shoved in our faces everywhere we turn. In the case of the Cup especially, it’s a case of exploitation of the icon leading to exploitation of the public.
Will I have a bet on the Melbourne Cup? Quite possibly. But I’ll do it in person, and like so many others it will be my only bet for the year.
Will I pay any attention to the rest of it? The onslaught of advertising, the “fabulous” offers that aren’t even legal in this state, the star-spangled betting bonanza we’re told we need?
Nope, nope, nope.
This article was adapted from “The Real Gambling Tsunami”, published in 2012.