Betting on carnival raises stakes

10 November 2011

Written by: Erdem Koc

Is it really over?

Like a springtime fling with a fire that burnt too bright, it’s time to go our separate ways. After an intense month in the mainstream limelight, it’s time for horse racing to resume its status quo as an afterthought in the mainstream sporting scope.

Filling the gap between the conclusion of the primary football codes and the beginning of the ‘Summer of Cricket’, the Spring Carnival has transformed into something of a Melbourne tradition.

We embrace it with open arms, become ‘experts’ for the four-week period, study form guides trying to find that ever-elusive ‘roughie’, and gravitate towards that one acquaintance that claims to have inside knowledge of the industry.

But as the majority of seasonal punters put the fascinators and frocks away for another 11 months, I’m not quite ready to allow racing to ride off into the sunset this time.

Recent events have thrust the impact that gambling has on the sporting world.

The AFL endured two betting scandals during the 2011 season, the NBA is still recovering from the Tim Donaghy scandal (Donaghy was jailed for fixing games that he officiated on 2008), and most recently the cricket world was rocked by the match-fixing revelations and subsequent incarcerations of three Pakistani players.

These examples are just a handful of the litany of blots on professional sports copybook, derived from some sort of betting derived scandal.\

Unchecked and outlandish sports betting has the potential to become the scourge of the sporting world. It opens the door for corruption to creep into an arena, that many fans revere due to its sense of purity.

Now, this isn’t a ‘holier than thou’ critique of the presence of betting in sports. I – like many other sports fans – occasionally fall victim to the lure of betting. The figures are hardly astronomical; normally a bet would be nothing more than a ten-dollar ‘multi’, trying to successfully predict the outcome of a combination of matches.

In this instance, I don’t see a problem with that sort of betting.  Ten dollars a week or fortnight is hardly an amount that could bankrupt me, or lead to widespread corruption. Mainly, it is nothing more than a way to add a little extra intrigue.

I would still watch those sports without betting, but more importantly, they would still exist and function in the absence of ‘casual betting’ like mine.

In contrast, horse racing would not.

The racing industry is predominantly built upon gambling. ‘Form guides’ provide the odds of all races, promoting the betting element of the sport, rather than an update of the actual events. In a sport where so very few horses are able to capture the audience, and generate a following for an extended time period, traditionally allegiances don’t exist.

Fans go the football to support their team, cheer on heroes, and maybe put a bet on.  The majority of racing fans on the other hand – especially the bandwagon race-goers around carnival time – go the races to bet.

Now, before being besieged by an impassioned group of racing fans talking about the purity of ‘the sport of kings’, consider the fact that gambling extends to the upper echelons of racing. There’s arguably no bigger risk in racing than outlaying excessive figures to purchase a horse, hoping that it races well and returns a dividend.

From the top down, gambling and its residual affects are the lifeblood of the racing industry; it’s the grease that keeps the wheels turning over. Tabcorp – the leading betting agency in Australia – recorded a net profit of $534.8 million for the 2010-11 financial year. That was an increase of 14 per cent from the previous year. To put that figure into context, it is almost half of the money paid to the AFL in its new television rights deal.

The rest of the sporting fraternity – and the Australian government through its proposed pokies reform – is battling to try and control an industry undergoing exponential growth.

Meanwhile, racing continues to openly promote and sustain itself from the gambling trough, filled with the hard earned money of a public, that collectively has less money to spare than at any other point in the past half century.

So you’ll have to forgive this sports fan for not rushing to a dark, cave-like enclosure that is the local TAB when the carnival rolls around in 2012.

Liam Quinn is a first-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.  You can read more of his work on his blog, and follow him on Twitter: @liamquinn23