Aussies love a bet, and we sure love to bet on sport. Almost $500 million was wagered on various sports in the last year. The potential for corruption is huge, and football has to be careful. It's not something we can ignore.
Back in the NSL era, sports betting was something they did in Vegas, or other exotic locations. We may have been slow starters, but we've sure learnt quickly. The Australian marketplace is now full of corporate bookmakers eagerly clamouring for a share of the punter's dollar.
Inevitably, wherever gambling exists, there will be individuals or groups looking to beat the system. Our most traditional form of gambling - horse racing - has had to deal with this forever, and employs large teams of stewards and integrity officers to police racecourses and betting agencies. Casinos around the globe spend billions of dollars annually to ensure the integrity of their product. So where does all this leave football?
In its basic form, there seems little danger in permitting betting on the result of a game of football. Organising a team to lose a football match would be almost impossible, and it's unthinkable in this country. The risk would seem to far outweigh the possible reward. Put simply, the more people involved, the greater the chance of detection.
In the last few years, however, we've opened a Pandora's box. There's been an explosion in the amount of ways you can bet on a football match. On any given A-League match, there's now between 30 and 100 ways to bet, depending on who you choose to bet with. This allows the unscrupulous to greatly reduce their risk, while at the same time greatly increasing their opportunity for success. If you don’t believe me, let me paint you one possible scenario.
Towards the end of the season two lower-placed A-League teams are due to meet in what is essentially a 'dead rubber'. One of the betting types available could be the odds on a red card being issued in the game. Those odds might climb as high as 16-1 - a tidy return in any language.
Now instead of trying to organise an entire team to lose, you now only need to convince one player to get himself sent off. Then you can set the wheels in motion. By spreading your bets over several of the large corporate bookmakers, you can be confident you'll end up with a lucrative return. Before you dismiss this as ridiculous, here's a question. Have you ever seen a player get sent off and thought to yourself: “What on earth did he do that for?”
The AFL and NRL have recently undergone major investigations over so-called exotic bets on first goal scorer or first point scored. If we think football is immune to this, we're being blind to the realities which exist.
Earlier this year, six state league players from Brisbane clubs Rochedale Rovers and Olympic FC were fined and suspended for betting on their own pre-season match. In the overall scheme of things, the game was of little significance. The players involved are part-timers - they make their real livelihood outside the game. For whatever reason they were tempted to cross the line.
What they did was stupid, but not much more than that.
What the episode does reveal, however, is just how many games are now available to bet on - opening up a whole new world of possibilities for those with dreams of easy money.
At the top of the food chain, an A-League player risks losing his livelihood if he crosses the same line and sells his soul for a quick dollar. But it’s not that hard to envisage a 35-year-old semi-pro in his last season in a state league somewhere becoming a target for a fix. A player like that has far less to lose, and potentially much to gain.
Now I love a bet as much as anyone. But I firmly believe we’ve gone too far. If we allow the current state of play to remain, we're heading towards to an inevitable scandal. Forget the spot betting, forget betting on state league games. Gambling on the result of an A-League game should be the only form of betting allowed. We need to show leadership and protect the reputation of our game before it’s too late.