Respected anti-gambling lawyer Reverend Tim Costello says the AFL is in ‘borrowed time’ as a betting scandal involving one of its current referees damages its reputation.
Four Melbourne men, including an AFL pitch referee, were arrested on Monday after an investigation into questionable betting activity in connection with the prestigious Brownlow code medal.
As well as tarnishing the integrity of the league, the scandal has caused many to question the AFL’s millions of dollars in sports betting sponsorships.
Mr Costello acknowledged that no immediate change was likely in AFL gambling sponsorships, but said the league’s agreements with betting companies were “shaking the edifice of AFL social license”.
“They have a social license where they say ‘we care about the community, we give back to the community’… That’s just another part of it,” the senior counsel for the Alliance for Gaming Reform said Thursday.
“They won’t abolish sports betting overnight, but they are now on borrowed time because everyone knows it’s unacceptable. And they do too.
The AFL would win between 12 and 15 million dollars a year from gaming company Sportsbet under a five-year sponsorship deal.
In return, the AFL places Sportsbet at the center of its major events, from the Brownlow Prize to the Grand Final.
It’s an addiction that AFL member clubs are increasingly trying to break away from.
All 10 Victorian AFL clubs have signed with the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation and its Love the Game programme.
Through this program, they pledge to keep their clubs free from sports betting sponsorships.
Grassroots stakeholders are also trying to stem the pervasive gambling culture in football, with the AFL Victoria and community leagues pledging to do the same.
“Clubs are much more responsible than the AFL,” Mr Costello said.
“Most Victorian clubs have walked out on slots saying it harms the community and is addictive.
“The AFL has been totally unprincipled. So it’s not the clubs. It’s actually the AFL.
Blurring ethical lines
Technically, the AFL is not breaking any laws by the way it promotes gambling. Gambling is legal – for people over the age of 18.
However, Mr Costello said the AFL had a moral responsibility as well as a legal responsibility to fans of the sport.
“What the AFL has done is literally turn children’s heroes, their football heroes into, effectively, greyhounds and horses – only worse,” he said.
“There is not a child today who does not know the logos, the odds, the jingles of sports betting companies, and not a child today who does not think that sport, the AFL and the bets go together – that they are the same thing.
“It’s corruption. Ten years ago, let alone a generation ago, adults would never tolerate grooming children with an adult product. That’s what the AFL does.
“Full of Fury”
Gambling advertising is not just a sports problem.
The Alliance for Gaming Reform said that a 943 sports betting advertisements were shown every day on Australian free channels, sports broadcasts and even programs such as Chef and The block.
Spain, Italy and Great Britain are among the countries that have largely eliminated sports betting advertising from television screens.
In Britain, only 13 sports betting adverts are aired on free-to-air TV each week.
Mr Costello said the real impetus would not come from within the AFL, or even from its many stakeholders.
Rather, he predicted that it will be the “footy mums” and grassroots stakeholders who will drive real change.
“They are outraged. They are disgusted… once organized and annoyed, I don’t think the AFL will be a game for football mums,” he said.
“They are full of fury about it.”
The new daily attempted to contact the AFL for comment.