Sport, gambling “all woven into one”

“You can nearly bet on two flies crawling up a wall.” A veteran Melbourne farrier and horse trainer and his schoolteacher son tell Sophie Hastings about their concerns over changes in gambling.

When David Gration started training and shoeing horses decades ago, betting was mostly restricted to the racetrack.

The Melbourne farrier and trainer, now in his mid-fifties, says he is concerned about sport and gambling being “all woven into one”.

“You can bet on nearly anything now,” Mr Gration says. “You can nearly bet on two flies crawling up a wall.”

Mobile applications allow people to bet anywhere and on anything, relating to almost any sport.

Contrasting 45 years ago, when betting was “all cash on course”, people can now even bet on the horse that will lose the race.

Sports have become an online betting “goldmine”, says Mr Gration. Where the TABs used to be full of off-course gamblers, barely anyone goes today.

“Anyone who has a phone can put a bet on from their living room,” he says.

The privatisation of TAB in 1994 was a “fatal error” since money generated now goes into corporate pockets, rather than the industry, says Mr Gration.

Aside from its impact on his industry, Mr Gration says online gambling has far-reaching effects.  Young and under-aged people have access to betting through online measures.

“There is no way of identifying someone online,” he says, “So a 14 year-old could take their dad’s phone and put a bet on.”

High school age students are being influenced by the developing gambling culture, says a Melbourne school teacher.

Shannon Gration, a teacher at Fitzroy High School and David Gration’s eldest son, says some senior students gamble at Crown Casino. The students are 18 and legally able to do so, but some have an “extensive knowledge” of casino games, says Shannon.

“I’ve watched gambling grow since I was at school.”

Gaming and entertainment have become heavily influenced by betting, with popular media “actively encouraging people to bet,” Shannon says.

“You only have to listen to Triple M to hear odds for a game.”

Gambling has evolved to the point that companies who own betting services and applications are advertising for them. The ads are often celebrity endorsed and include a recommendation to “gamble responsibly”, which is contradictory, says Shannon.

“They say one thing and encourage you to do another.”

He also says that having an account on a betting application is easy to start up with little or no proof of identity. However, companies “make you jump through hoops to prove your identity” when cashing in winnings.

“They want you to keep gambling, to lose.”

Some people are fortunate enough to win, though. After he won $1000 from a $10 bet on Michelle Paine, in the 2015 Melbourne Cup, Jordan Brown, 22, says he is “lucky in general”.

Jordan, an electrician, says he bets for something to do when he is bored. To him, it is spending money on entertainment.

“You bet to lose the whole time,” he says, “So you only bet as much as you’re willing to lose.”

Going to the TAB or pub is a way Jordan socialises with his friends. The 22 year old also uses mobile betting apps and says “there is a difference between a gambler and someone who bets”.

His nonchalance is concerning to people around him. Jordan’s girlfriend, Maddie Grant, 18, says Jordan has a habit of ignoring the budget he sets for betting.

“He bargains more bets out of his winnings,” she says.

Mobile applications encourage this behaviour because they are so accessible and “suck people in,” Maddie says.

Studies have shown increased addiction with greater accessibility, says Melbourne neuro-psychologist Nerissa Cordy.

“Online betting is harder to escape,” says Dr Cordy, from the Royal Melbourne Hospital. The “lure of quick money” draws people in.

“It’s so appealing to think you could win a million.”

However, the chemical rush of serotonin and dopamine caused by gambling is what acts as a reinforcer for the behaviour, says clinical psychologist Erika Wong.

Dr Wong, also from Royal Melbourne Hospital, says people “turn to gambling to numb themselves”.

People who are addicted are not likely to seek help as they wouldn’t see their behaviour as problematic, says Dr Wong, since people are biased to believe they will be lucky.