Edition #9: Gambling in our community

An action shot showing two batsmen, a bowler and an umpire at a cricket match
An action shot showing two batsmen, a bowler and an umpire at a cricket match
Premier Cricket players from St Kilda and Melbourne University cricket clubs at a 'Love the Game' themed match, photo: Paul Jeffers

As pure as cricket can get

‘I … am a member … of the world’s biggest online sports betting company.’ Recognise the line, in the sonorous tones of Samuel L. Jackson?  ‘I … am a member …. of …’ etc.  If you watch live cricket, or even just live sport generally, you know it all too well: the portentous tone, the heaving crowds, the spookily transfixed hipsters nodding in slow-motion unison.

Yet there’s no denying it’s an eye-catching earworm of an advertisement, right down to the calculated use of the word ‘member’, resonant with every lover of sport, as though becoming one of the giant firm’s twenty million customers worldwide is to gain entree to an exclusive global elite.

It hardly looks like betting at all; instead the boundaries are blurred between watching, enjoying, almost participating by proxy. Then, for the viewer, it’s back to the cricket, with the impression implanted that maybe a little punt might add excitement, deepen involvement, substantiate enthusiasm. There’s been the perfunctory mumble of ‘gamble responsibly’ between times, but that’s not for you anyway. You know sport. You understand money. It’s only a game. It’s just for fun.

Cricket and gambling – the best of frenemies

So far, it has been the mutual embrace of online betting and the football codes that has come under scrutiny. Yet cricket and gambling are not only ancient acquaintances, dating back 200 years to the Regency, but natural correspondents. Cricket accentuates skill but cannot be played long without luck. Cricket is an immersive activity, but features a good deal of idle time when distraction is sought. Cricket involves myriad small, discrete events, each entailing a quick calculation of reward for risk. Success in cricket and gambling is pleasurable; failure, when it becomes consistent, is demoralising and potentially ruinous.

The mindset that makes for a good cricketer can make for a bad gambler. Cricket is all about confidence.

But where most cricketers grasp this intuitively about their sport, that understanding is more elusive in gambling. Indeed, the mindset that makes for a good cricketer can make for a bad gambler. Cricket is all about confidence. Maintaining that confidence can require one to look past luck, to concentrate on underlying trends, to stay deaf to doubt. The shot was on; the catch was freakish; the delivery was good; the mishit could have gone anywhere. It’s a kind of necessary irrationality. But similar thoughts have been the ruin of many a punter. Gamblers need limits, rules, even a healthy fear. And doubt is often the whisper of conscience.

Love the game – because it is a game

Last Saturday, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation partner Cricket Victoria hosted a 'Love the Game' themed round, which was played by all Victorian Premier Cricket clubs. Premier clubs are among the signatories of the foundation’s responsible gambling charter, which commits them to forgoing sponsorship from betting companies, to minimising the exposure of young people to gambling activities and advertising, and to a ‘distinct separation’ between gambling and sporting activities.

These distinctions need drawing precisely because they no longer draw themselves. Not only has gambling spread widely, deeply and in many guises throughout the community, but gambling problems among sportsmen and sportswomen are no longer merely extraneous, the stuff of pokies addictions and mug punting; gambling is in sport itself, a kind of Trojan Horse, looking ‘like’ sport and making use of sport personalities such as Ricky Ponting and even Ben Johnson to promote itself.

In gambling there is no pleasure in the struggle. There is no ‘losing gracefully’ or ‘honourably’.

And it’s as well to talk about ‘loving the game’, because gambling substitutes instead the love of winning, which of any game is corrosive and corrupting. Losing in sport can be disappointing, even desolating. But its possibility is part of the bargain we strike with sport, that failure and success are commingled, and that there is pleasure in the struggle. In gambling there is no pleasure in the struggle. There is no ‘losing gracefully’ or ‘honourably’.  That’s gambling in essence: unearned reward, quick riches, instant gratification.

St Kilda CC v Melbourne University CC – not the world’s biggest anything

The ‘Love the Game’ round was launched at Harry Trott Oval before a match between St Kilda and Melbourne University cricket clubs. In the scheme of things, it was not a match of profound significance. It was not on television. It was not attended or followed by thousands.  It was not played for big pay cheques or prize money. One cannot imagine it being voiced over by Samuel L. Jackson. In some respects, it’s as pure as cricket now gets, mattering precisely because of the importance invested in it by those involved, on field and off – and in this sense presents these issues in relief.  For while they might enjoy it for the kick and the thrill of a good collect, nobody talks about ‘loving gambling’ – it can never love us back.

The foundation works with sporting clubs across Victoria to raise awareness among young people of gambling risks and myths, and to help clubs preserve the essence of their sport. Find out more about the Love the Game Sporting Club Program.

First published in The Age on Friday 27 October 2017

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