Throughout Victoria, there’s a growing trend among Australia Football League (AFL) teams, who are essentially choosing between their beloved poker machines and valuable sponsorship deals with online sports betting operators. The majority is clearly choosing to keep their pokies.
Earlier this week, the Richmond Tigers became the seventh AFL Club to err on the side of caution. The Tigers signed a 3-year partnership with the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation (VRGF), forgoing an opportunity to extend its sponsorship deal with interactive betting giant, Sportbet.
Other AFL Clubs that took the responsible gambling plunge include the Collingwood Magpies, Essendon Bombers, Hawthorn Hawks, North Melbourne Kangaroos, Western Bulldogs and St Kilda Saints.
The only three AFL clubs who have not signed the VRGF charter, electing to maintain their sponsorships with sports betting agencies, are the Carlton Blues, Geelong Cats and Melbourne Demons.
Australia’s football clubs have long gained abundant revenue through the installment of poker machines, and that’s something Richmond and other AFL members weren’t willing to risk, despite the lucrative nature of sports betting sponsorships.
The Tigers proudly (and munificently) donned the Sportbet logo in 2015, but will not do so this year.
AFLs Partnership with Crownbet Problematic
There is one conflict of interest the AFL will have to deal with, though. In 2015, the league signed a 5-year contract with sports betting operator Crownbet (formerly EasyBet). The deal provides the AFL with nearly $10 million per year, with matches to be broadcast live via the operator’s online betting site and mobile apps throughout 2016.
Online In-Play Betting Ban
By default, partnering with the VRGF means that clubs are also opposing the government’s initiative to legalize online in-play betting. Currently, Tatts and Tabcorp hold a monopoly on in-play bets, as they can only be lawfully placed in person at a retail shop, or over the phone (although several online betting groups, including Sportbet, have circumvented the ban by launching mobile in-play betting apps that do require the user to place a phone call).
VRGF Good, but Sports Betting Not Bad
The Honorable Jane Garret, who serves as Gaming Minister in Victoria, extolled the decision of the seven AFL clubs to sign VRGF agreements, but at the same time, she’s not opposed to sponsorships with sports betting groups either. She said that money from online betting operators shouldn’t be viewed as “the new tobacco” of gambling.
“The difference between tobacco and gambling is quite significant in that every cigarette is doing you damage and there is no benefit to smoking. It’s a killer product,” said Garret. “Its very use kills you or causes you physical damage.
“There are plenty of people who enjoy gambling,” she continued. “It’s part of our life in Australia … most people do it without developing a problem so there is a difference between tobacco and gambling,” Garret asserted.
“Tens of thousands of people are employed in the clubs and casinos across Victoria, it’s a great pastime for people who enjoy it without developing problems,” she concluded.
Published Review of IGA Pending
Late last year, former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell was called upon by the Australian government to review the nation’s Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 (IGA). Garrett requested that the government release the details of that review, which are expected to have significant baring on the upcoming decision whether to lift the ban against online in-play sports betting. Officials are expected to publicize the review sometime this month.