AFL Addicted to the gambling dollar

Posted: April 2, 2016 by Beaner in Gambling addiction, Sports betting
Tags: , , , , , , ,

AFL 2016: Gambling revenue the AFL’s dirtiest cash cow

Caroline Wilson
April 2, 2016
Gillon McLachlan took more than a week to respond to the Collingwood illicit drugs controversy. By then the so-called “noise” had almost gone quiet and the minds of a multitude of supporters made up but still when the AFL chief finally did speak he made a lot of sense.
McLachlan slammed the calls for zero tolerance as “insane” and then offered on his regular Friday 3AW gig some nice diversionary calls such as a wish to try football in New Zealand again one day despite its first foray flopping. And potentially awarding Jared Tallent his belated London gold medal at the MCG on grand final day.

It was only when broadcaster Neil Mitchell turned the subject to gaming that the AFL boss came down with a case of the mumbles. This is because McLachlan has nowhere to go on this issue and he knows it.

He’s not alone. Despite devoting increasing resources to fighting corruption and shielding the game from the growing international threat of match fixing; gambling revenue remains the AFL’s dirtiest cash cow.

That the competition continues to thrust betting on a daily basis into the hearts and minds of all its supporters of all ages remains a source of some discomfort to the AFL Commission and so it should.

Having chosen years ago to take up – with varying degrees of success – social leadership in the form of indigenous Australians, women, drugs and more recently homophobia and domestic violence; the AFL remains as hooked on gambling revenue as the clubs McLachlan was questioned about on Friday.

The deal it struck with CrownBet last year remains a Goliath in Australian sporting sponsorship with the betting partner smashing its category to the tune of almost double its nearest opponent. What resulted was a five-year deal worth close to $50 million.

The AFL’s corporate partnerships reaped $55 million from late 2014 through 2015 – roughly one-third of its $182 million commercial operations revenue which increased by 11 per cent from the previous year.

At an estimated $10 million annually the CrownBet deal is a beast and an exclusive arrangement which has led so many clubs towards lucrative deals with problem gambling groups simply because the AFL deal has priced some former club betting deals out of the market.

And the AFL delivers in spades. On the face of it, CrownBet owns AFL.com, the nation’s biggest sporting website. In an era when digital assets have never been more powerful, the AFL’s website would indicate that Australian rules football and betting are inexorably linked and that the game is all about the hip pocket, taking a financial punt with the push of a button.

It is hard to argue with the AFL taking a percentage of every football bet given that all sports do so. But surely the hypocrisy of taking so much money out of an industry which has created such a vast social problem and one which has gone hand-in-hand with international sporting corruption must play on the conscience of the commissioners.

Particularly when they now directly play such a role in introducing children to gambling. As if the saturation advertising on TV and radio during AFL broadcast isn’t bad enough. And yet no senior figure appears prepared to show leadership.

Even Colin Carter, the Geelong chairman who this week accused the industry of being complicit in the damage done by poker machines, smacked of double standards when he said his club would love to sell its pokies but couldn’t currently afford to.

Particularly children who attend when every game at Simonds Stadium are inundated by bet365 LED signage. The Cats are no longer sponsored by the betting agency but sold their signage rights to a broker who covers the cost of setting up the LED and in turn gains 20 per cent of the signage as a pay-off.

So like McLachlan’s comments on radio on Friday there is an arm’s length mentality that pervades the Geelong’s betting advertising at the same time the respected club chief speaks wishfully of turning his back on it.

Having met late last year with anti-gaming crusaders Tim Costello and Nick Xenophon over the clubs’ unhealthy reliance on pokies, McLachlan has made no definitive statement on the problem — in 2015 nine Victorian clubs took close to $90 million from gaming machines and their victims.

Only North Melbourne have given away the pokies with Hawthorn’s multimillion-dollar profits so heavily reliant on their gaming booty and with the pokies representing some 20 per cent of the clubs’ total revenue.

And yet the AFL has failed to support Costello’s call for con-free machines, several days ago responding with a wishy-washy statement on the issue instead.

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