Tomorrow is Melbourne Cup day. The day of the “race that stops a nation”. The day every man, woman and their dog has a punt on the horses.
Tomorrow is also OzLotto jackpot day. OzLotto, one of several Australian lottery offerings, has jackpotted to $100 million, and the queues at outlets selling tickets have been tens of people deep for days.
According to media reports, tomorrow will see a “gambling tsunami” the likes of which this country has never seen… potentially one of the biggest betting days in Australian history.
Am I brimming with outrage? Seething with repressed fury at the tidal wave of betting that is about to descend 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.
And OzLotto is not the problem. Lotteries are widely considered to be at the lowest end of the addictive spectrum when it comes to gambling, and there’s plenty of research that backs this up. When the jackpot grows, as it has recently, it captures the attention of those who would normally never think twice of buying a ticket… the speculative investment in a $20 ticket with the chance to win big. But those latecomers to the lottery game don’t end up as regular players; once the huge jackpots are gone and the hype dies down, the number of people playing the lotteries remains pretty much constant all year round.
These are both one-off events. They happen to fall on the same day this year, in an act of pure coincidence. And they’ll both draw 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 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.
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. This is also driven by the industry, whose mobile slogans include “Bet Everywhere Everytime”, “The Greatest Invention Since Betting” and “A Bookie In Your Pocket”. That accessibility brings the poker machine methodology to racing and sports betting; quick, easy and repeatable bets. It’s a situation fraught with danger.
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.
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, not the lottery, but rather the way they’re 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 buy an Ozlotto ticket? More than likely. But I have zero expectation of winning.
Will I pay any attention to the REAL “gambling tsunami” that is made up of ads, news reports, live crosses, mobile apps and pleas to “bet with us for the best odds in town”?
No fucking way.