Sport’s Toxic Relationship with Gambling

The Winning Hand

“For the love of the game”, “It matters more when there’s money on it”, these are just two examples of gambling slogans predicated on the notion that gambling enhances the experience of watching sport. For many people gambling may enhance the thrill and make otherwise boring games exciting, but not for me. This fallacy that gambling brings you closer to the action is prevalent in television adverts, as you see fans bet then be transported to the stadium. The more likely scenario is that the fan is sitting on tender hooks, panicking as yet another bet fails to land, and their financial woes increase. There are regulations on alcohol and cigarette advertising because of the physical damage they cause. Gambling should be viewed as an equal addiction, it can cause mental damage which leads to physical damage.                                                                                                                            

Gambling advertisements state “when the fun stops, stop” at the end of them now as a way of encouraging responsible gambling. Maybe I’m arguing over semantics too much, but the word “fun” is problematic there. These companies aren’t encouraging people to change their ways, they want them to keep frittering money away.  I’m yet to be convinced that these companies really care about our personal finances and mental well-being particularly when we have Ray Winstone telling us to “bet nowww” before every match. Gambling has become so ingrained in sporting culture that we have become largely anaesthetized to it. This advertising is more harmful than we realise, particularly when you consider that 370,000 children aged 11 to 16 gamble each week. Children could view it as harmless fun, a way of livening up dull sports fixtures. They don’t see that it could be sowing the seeds of a crippling addiction.                                                                                                       

Sport and gambling have become so intrinsically linked and there seems to be no way of separating them. Cigarette and alcohol advertising in sport has been made taboo and the same needs to happen to gambling. In the Premier League, 9 out of 20 teams are sponsored by betting firms and the Championship is even worse with 17 out of 24 clubs. It is impossible to avoid seeing gambling logos on shirts and on advertising hoarding at games. Most darts and snooker tournaments are all sponsored by betting companies after the ban on cigarette advertising. Without gambling, these sports would be struggling for sponsorship. Golf and tennis have not yet succumbed to gambling sponsorships but don’t rule it out. The European Tour and the PGA have discussed the possibility of such sponsorships as they know how lucrative they would be. In future we may see Rory McIlroy leaving the 18th green at Augusta to receive the green jacket, sponsored by Paddy Power. Novak Djokovic could be lifting the Bet 365 Wimbledon trophy.                                                       

From my own personal experience, betting on a sporting event completely alters the viewing experience for the worse. It removes the ability to enjoy a great sporting spectacle, all that matters is whether your bet wins. You may witness an incredible goal or an unexpected comeback, but all excitement vanishes if your bet fails. I have gambled before on bets such as first goal scorer and final score of the match and it prevents me from being able to enjoy the match. All I am waiting on is for these things to happen, get my money regardless of enjoyment. When I fell in love with sport at a young age, it was because of the sheer excitement and thrill of great sporting occasions and unexpected results. Moments like Liverpool’s 2005 comeback in Istanbul and Manchester United’s double in 2008 live long in the memory because of how they engrossed me. Whilst I was revelling in the excitement of these matches, thousands of people around the world were losing money on them. I’m not calling for a ban on gambling, I just think it’s important to recapture why we began watching sport, before gambling even crossed our minds.

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