4 November 2011
I've spent many Melbourne Cups either at Flemington, or relaxing nearby, in my pre-journalist days when the words ‘public holiday' actually meant something. The day is always celebrated with gusto in Melbourne, but I was surprised by the extent to which Brisbane also gets into the swing of things.
On Tuesday, there was an office sweep, most were sneaking out the door in time for the race, and the town was generally buzzing on cup night, despite the lack of any official day off.
Now for me at least, the race wouldn't really be the same without having a punt on it. This initially meant uncle Tim writing down each person's five-dollar each -way bet, and then going down to stand in a queue at the local TAB for an hour.
For many those days are a thing of the past. Like everything else, gambling has gone online, and like almost everything else (ever booked a flight with Tiger?), this makes it quicker and easier.
But as the nation debates the merits of the proposed legislation on poker machines (no, not the pokie ‘tax' as it was infamously described by a couple of sports commentators), it's worth examining the growing behemoth that is online gambling.
One can barely watch a sporting event nowadays without being shown the odds and encouraged to make the game worth ‘even more' by having a punt on it. Betting agency employees are being made to look like part of the commentary team, and any mug with a laptop and a credit card can be on the Blues by 45.5 or more points in moments.
Whatever happens with the pokie legislation, one would hope that some serious attention is paid to the various online betting websites and their practices. And I say this as a keen, if occasional, punter. I started up a betting account last spring, lured in by a ‘Free $50 bet' promotion. It seemed too good to be true – 50 bucks straight in the pocket. Or straight on a horse in the next race, at least. I didn't have to deposit any money in the account, but I did have to provide a credit card. Just for verification purposes, of course.
I managed to have a win on day one, and thought it would be a good idea to make a withdrawal from the account. But this is where it got tricky. They wanted all sorts of identification from me; licence, birth certificate, passport, bank statement, etc., and it had to be faxed. It took a few days, but eventually it was approved.
Then there was the actual withdrawal process. You have to make a ‘request to withdraw', which takes several days to process, and the payout can take a couple of weeks. What's more, once you've made that ‘request', the money you wanted to withdraw is still sitting in your betting account, and able to be used.
So if a punter has $200 in the account and ‘requests' to withdraw it, that same money is still available in his betting account, and if he decides has a flutter and draws the account to below $200, his withdrawal ‘request' is denied.
To put money IN to the account, of course, is a lot easier. Punch in your credit card details, and you're away.
It's all designed, of course, to make it easy to bet, easy to lose, and very difficult to be disciplined.
There are numerous online betting agencies that act along these lines – google ‘free online bet' and scroll through how many options you have, you'll be amazed. Just beware the fine print. This is but one part of the online gambling industry, which also includes a wide variety of casino-type games online. And it's growing exponentially. Whatever legislation occurs with poker machines, there needs to be action taken at the same time with online gaming, otherwise problem gamblers could simply take their business elsewhere. Australians are known for their willingness to bet on just about anything, so we are being targeted by betting agencies from around the world through online sites.
I don't consider myself a big gambler, but last spring, for the first time, I was betting money through my credit card, beyond what I wanted to lose, because, well, it was easy. There has been strong lobbying to remove ATMS from poker machine venues, and yet barely a peep has been made of the fact that anyone holding an online account can bet with impunity on their credit card.
So what needs to happen? For one, a pre-commitment option would be wise – gamblers could set a maximum they want to lose in a day. There should also be a serious re-think on the current offering of incentives for punters to open accounts, such as offering free bets, and also the practice of some companies of offering people money in their account if they sign-up a friend. True story.
Online gambling needs a serious overhaul, and this must come at the same time as the pokie legislation. Otherwise those addicted to poker machines today will be firing up their PCs tomorrow. I say this as a punter - and a happy one at that after plonking some folding on a Dunaden win in the cup. In years 11 and 12, to support my tuckshop habit, I even ran a book on the weekend's AFL matches. So I am well aware of the foibles of those who like a bet.
Comments are moderated and will not appear until they have been approved.