One of the most popular wagering activities in Australia is, of course, betting on sports. Every year, Australians bet billions on various forms of footy, with Australian rules football being the biggest slice of the pie.
But many politicians, bookmakers and league officials are now concerned about certain kinds of bets on this uniquely Australian game .The issue is not with wagers on games in the Australian Football League, or even on the Victorian Football League. Rather, bets on suburban leagues have started to draw more attention, with some calling for an outright ban on the practice.
According to a report in The Age, former VFA footballer and current Greens gambling spokesman Richard Di Natale has said that the Greens may try to bring up the issue as part of the current look at reforming the Interactive Gambling Act. The problem, he said, is that smaller leagues have few resources to combat the possibility of match fixing or insider betting.
“It’s difficult enough for the AFL with its immense resources to pick up bets from players who stand to gain from insider knowledge, but suburban footy leagues stand little or no chance.”
Most of the billions wagered each year on football is bet on AFL and VFL matches. However, there are certainly places where punters can wager on smaller competitions as well. For instance, the report in The Age pointed out that Sportingbet sponsors the Balwyn club in the Eastern Football League, and offers wagering on their games.
One of the biggest issues with allowing betting on local competitions is the potential for the appearance of corruption, even if no actual misconduct has occurred. If the public does not believe in the integrity of local matches, that hurts the leagues significantly – a problem that can then potentially trickle up to national competitions.
Of course, any decision to change laws on sports wagering would be controversial, and there are benefits and drawbacks to the proposal to ban local bets.
On the positive side, banning all betting on local football would provide some level of immediate protection to the integrity of the matches in these leagues. The less money that is involved in a competition, generally, the more likely it is that corruption could seep into matches, particularly when gambling on those matches is available. For instance, while an AFL player might not be willing to risk a lucrative career by sharing inside information or offering to help fix a match, a local player who only plays semi-professionally might be a ripe target for such schemes.
On the other hand, individuals who want to make wagers on any sporting event are likely to be able to do so, legal or not. While leagues may have a difficult time monitoring betting now, it would only be harder if these wagers were being made with local bookies rather than with licensed bookmakers either online or at shops. In addition, allowing these bets to be made legally provides much more of a record should suspicious betting take place; investigators can then look into wagering patterns in an attempt to discover whether any illegal activities were taking place.
With that in mind, banning betting on local footy matches might not have the intended effect – or, at least, it might not be as comprehensive a solution as some hope. Perhaps alternatives should be explored, such as having the AFL and other large sporting organizations share resources to help protect the integrity of football matches at all levels. Limits on betting on smaller competitions may be part of the solution as well, but a total ban on such bets is not likely to be a complete solution to the perception of corruption in some matches. While nobody is suggesting that corruption is at all common at any level of the game, ensuring that match integrity is beyond a doubt is something that all sides – players, clubs, punters and fans alike – understand is vitally important to the sport.