The Favourite

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If you watch sport, chances are you have seen sports gambling promotions. You have probably also noticed that the people in these promotions are usually male and they are usually smiling and winning. Like most promotional material though, the reality of the situation is a little different.

The reality is that if you watch sport on television, you will not avoid sports betting marketing. The value of sports betting advertising quadrupled between 2010 and 2012 (Hing, N. (2014). Sports Betting and Advertising (AGRC Discussion Paper No. 4). Melbourne: Australian Gambling Research Centre). In 2012, 3,069 individual sports betting advertisements were relayed over all forms of media, excluding social media. This included 528 individual sports betting advertisements, which were collectively played over 20,000 times on free-to-air TV and more frequently on pay TV (Hing, N. 2014). It is getting more prolific each year – over ten weeks from 30 August to 7 November 2014, the six main wagering providers collectively spent $12 million, running a total of 13,000 advertisements. Sportsbet spent the most during this time (over $5.5 million), while Tom Waterhouse paid for the most expensive individual advertisement, which cost $461,000 and was screened on television 347 times (Sproston, K., Hanley, C., Brook, K. (ORC International), Hing, N., Gainsbury, S. (2015). Study on Marketing of Sports Betting and Racing. Melbourne: Gambling Research Australia).

What does all this advertising do? Sports betting is the only gambling form for which participation rates have increased during the last decade (Gainsbury et al., 2014). Approximately one in seven (13%) adult Australians now gambles on sport (Hing, Gainsbury et al., 2014). Half of all sports betting is now conducted online (Hing, N., 2014) due to the 24/7 access via mobile apps and betting websites, as well as mobile wagering vans located at some sporting events. Yes, just in case you missed the many opportunities to gamble on your way to the game, you can rely on the mobile wagering van sitting outside the ground – useful if you don’t have a smartphone or access to the Internet, where you will also find many opportunities to gamble. Live coverage is streamed on some mobile betting apps, further incentivising sports enthusiasts into using this readily available medium.

Many sporting events, teams and stadiums have entered into commercial marketing arrangements with corporate bookmakers. This is most prominent in the two largest Australian sports, the Australian Football League (AFL) and the National Rugby League (NRL). These sports attract about half of all sports betting in Australia, with a doubling of turnover expected within five years from $750 million to $1.5 billion on the NRL and from $900 million to $1.8 billion for the AFL (Hing, N., 2014). As the sporting bodies receive marketing and product fees based on betting revenues, there is no incentive for them to reduce betting activity in the foreseeable future.

Sport is now used as a marketing platform to deploy huge investments of money by sports betting operators to recruit and retain customers. Particular concerns are that this marketing can encourage consumers to consider gambling as a sport, and that young people are learning about gambling through sport programming and merchandising, which can normalise and legitimise gambling uptake at a young age (Hing, N., 2014).

The embedding of sports betting promotions into live and televised sports is possibly the most controversial aspect of their marketing strategies, as it is mostly unavoidable for the viewing audience – many of which are likely to be children and young adults. I recall sitting at football games at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) seeing live betting odds splashed across the big screens while being announced to the crowd as a bit of harmless fun to talk about and follow throughout the game. Any number of live score apps come with betting odds right there next to the score, just in case you hadn’t seen those odds elsewhere. Even tipping websites (yes, footy tipping is considered harmless fun even though it’s usually a competition with a monetary prize) have live betting odds prominently displayed as well, presumably to help with deciding who you’re going to tip to win. Less subtle examples are when Tom Waterhouse was employed as a “special comments” analyst by Channel Nine during live broadcasts of NRL games, only to spruik the odds available at his betting agency. Or the financial market type newsflash segment, usually performed by an attractive female to get the target young male audience’s attention. This still occurs on subscription TV, as they cross to whichever betting agency has paid enough to get the slot and promote all those last minute options you have before the game starts, or during the game too. They usually wrap up these segments with a brief mention to gamble responsibly, after they have just saturated the TV viewing experience with their marketing strategies (more on this aspect later).

This embedded advertising can be particularly powerful because very little can be avoided, other than not watching the broadcast at all, or not attending the event. It is also likely to evoke an emotional response, rather than a rational one (Milner et al., 2013). Promotions occur at critical points when audiences are at their most attentive (e.g., when points are scored). Fixed advertising signs are all over stadiums, and some team uniforms. An audit of four live AFL matches held at two major stadiums in 2011 showed promotion of nine wagering brands during an average of 59 marketing communications (Milner et al., 2013; Thomas, Lewis, Duong et al., 2012).

The proliferation of sports betting advertising did result in community concern, especially in relation to the exposure to children and young adults. Some of the concern centred around the potential to normalise gambling among young viewers and potentially grooming a new generation of problem gamblers (Hing, Vitartas, & Lamont, 2013, 2014; Hunt, 2013; Lamont et al., 2011; McMullan, 2011).

“This “gamblification” of sport may transfer images associated with sport to promote gambling as healthy, harmless fun that, like sport, relies primarily on skill (Hing, Vitartas, & Lamont, 2014; Lamont et al., 2011; McMullan, 2011). Sports betting is becoming culturally embedded among young males, who report that peer discussions now include betting odds and that they feel pressured to gamble to fit in with their peers (Thomas, Lewis, McLeod et al., 2012). These promotions also undermine responsible gambling messages targeting young men, who are also the most at-risk group for gambling problems (Delfabbro, 2012)”.

Some evidence is showing that the proliferation of sports betting advertising is also negatively affecting problem gamblers. The University of Sydney Gambling Treatment Clinic has found that “the proportion of clients with sports betting-related problems increased fourfold between 2006-07 and 2010-11, with sports-embedded promotions reported as contributing substantially to these clients’ problems and relapses” (University of Sydney Gambling Treatment Clinic, 2011).

The extent of community concern in relation to sports betting advertising led to three separate government inquiries during the period between 2011 and 2013. “Following community concerns raised in these inquiries, Australian government pressure led to amendments to broadcast advertising codes from August 2013 to stop in-match commentary and on-screen displays of betting odds. Other promotional practices continue, including live odds promotions before match commencement. Ironically, airing of the statutory message to “gamble responsibly” has decreased with curtailment of live odds messages” (Hing, Vitartas, & Lamont, 2014). This is where a large part of the issue lies. If you watch live sport, you simply cannot avoid sports gambling messages. Whether it’s the casual mention of favourites through commentary, or the market style betting update before a game commences, or the copious number of sports betting advertisements throughout each broadcast, you won’t be able to avoid a reminder that you can easily go and throw some money at the game you’re watching. Seemingly, the only way to avoid it is to not watch the broadcast at all, nor read a newspaper, nor check your favourite sporting app, nor go anywhere near a computer with an Internet connection. How likely is any of this if you like to watch sport either regularly, or even occasionally? There’s also concern that it took three government inquiries before the industry finally acted, and even then, they only went a very small way towards removing the constant signals they give sports followers to go and gamble. It shows they cannot be trusted to self-regulate and will only act when pressured to do so. To further highlight the lack of self-regulation in the industry, an audit of sports betting advertising conducted in 2014 found that “responsible gambling messages were not commonly seen in either the televised or live sports or racing events observed. They were not displayed in many advertisements included in the content analysis and there were generally problems with legibility whenever they were present” (ORC International), Hing, N., Gainsbury, S. (2015). Study on Marketing of Sports Betting and Racing. Melbourne: Gambling Research Australia).

It has been found that gambling advertising can have particularly negative impact on problem gamblers. They report gambling advertisements as being a greater stimulation to gamble, a larger influence on spending than intended, and an encouragement for them to think that they will win. They also report that these advertisements can remind them about gambling, trigger gambling urges and undermine attempts to moderate their gambling. Bonus offers for sports betting, such as money-back guarantees and “free” bets that require matching deposits appear to particularly increase Internet gambling among problem gamblers. While gambling advertising has to date not been found to motivate many people to commence gambling, it has been shown to increase gambling among existing gamblers (Hing, N. 2014).

As research into the impact of sports betting advertising is still relatively new and ongoing, lessons could be learned from the advertising of other potentially harmful products in sport. Research has indicated that exposure to alcohol, tobacco and junk food advertising contributes to their uptake and consumption, especially among adolescents (Hing, N. (2014). Sports Betting and Advertising (AGRC Discussion Paper No. 4). Melbourne: Australian Gambling Research Centre). In fact, tobacco advertising at sporting events in Australia was banned some years ago, even though this caused a great controversy with particular international events such as the Formula One Grand Prix. As research continues on the sports betting industry, it will be interesting to see if a similar ban on sports betting advertising at sports events and on sports broadcasts ever eventuates. Given the amount of money being made through royalties and commissions to sporting bodies, this move might not be very likely.

There is a need for updated research into the impact that sports betting marketing is having on the community, particularly problem gamblers and the target markets of these companies (predominately young males). The trends from existing research are not going in a favourable direction for anyone other than the sports betting companies and the sports bodies themselves and I am reasonably sure we don’t need to put any odds on where current trends are heading. If my viewing of sport is anything to go by, this issue has become much more problematic than it was three or four years ago.

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Born This Way

It was just an ordinary day, which meant that one of Australia’s mainstream newspapers was due for some good old-fashioned hysteria, scare-mongering and lies. It’s usually an attempt to demonise a minority or just have some fun at the expense of those that cannot defend themselves. A few days ago, this unashamedly unethical ragtag decided it was time to attack the LGBTI community again. However, this time, they went for the lowest of lows – they went for the youth.

An article at the top of the front page of Wednesday’s edition – an exclusive by the way – was so ineloquently titled “Activists push taxpayer-funded gay manual in schools”. Presumably being in this prominent position meant that it was the most important story of the day, but I’ll leave you to decide whether there were more pressing issues on this Wednesday (I can think of at least one more important issue that involves 267 people about to be sent back to a life of abuse and mental torment, but maybe I just have a different perspective of the world). I’ve actively decided not to link the article here (nor name this shameful excuse of journalism) for two reasons – it’s behind a pay-wall and I really don’t want you to give them any money to read it. It’s also just so farcical from top to bottom, so I don’t want to waste your time. I do however want to draw attention to how damaging this kind of “reporting” is, and will continue to be, if it is left unchecked and unquestioned. Though the “taxpayer-funded” part is quite hilarious – I’m not sure what their point is, but is this a good time to remind them that their beloved church that they so vehemently defend at all times does not pay any tax, while also receiving large sums of funding from the government?

To be clear, there is no “gay manual”. What would a “gay manual” even do, or attempt to do? This strikes at one of the most hurtful aspects of what homophobes believe – that being gay is a choice. Who would choose this? Why would you bring all of this unwanted attention and subsequent disadvantage to yourself if you didn’t have to? I’ll never forget one of the first things my Mum said to me when I finally had the nerve to come out to her (at age 28 by the way) – she was really concerned that I was going to miss out on opportunities, or be treated differently, simply because of my sexuality. And here I was worried about her getting upset at not getting any grandchildren from me. The fact that it took me so long to officially come out to my Mother is a direct statement of the way I felt scared and anxious for the real me to be out there. The prime of my life was spent hiding away for the fear of being found out. I had no boyfriends and I didn’t go out much all those years, simply because I was so scared of being found out. Why did I feel like this? Well, that’s what twelve years of Catholic education will do to you. I’m not upset that my parents felt it necessary for me to go to a religious school, but I do greatly resent the education I received of a narrative of the world in which I was a freak while growing up and discovering myself, while they go through scandal after scandal of sexual abuse of children in their care without any attempts to correct the many wrongs they have committed.

It was during my high school years that I first began to feel attracted to another guy. To say that was a terrifying and utterly confusing experience would be one of the greatest understatements I’ve ever made. I only wish there was something reassuring available to me at the time that explained some of the possibilities of what I was thinking and experiencing. This is no “gay manual”. Labelling it this way implies that you can teach someone to be gay. That would be as effective as gay conversion therapy, which is hopefully and finally about to be made illegal in Victoria. This is a teaching aide that forms part of the Safe Schools Coalition. It is an anti-bullying document designed to help children – all children – understand the differences that make us our own unique individual, and that there’s simply no reason to pick on someone, or exclude someone who might not fit into some main category. I don’t see anything wrong with that, especially as 80 per cent of homophobic bullying involving LGBTI young people occurs at school and has a profound impact on their well-being and education (Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of GLBT Australians (2012) p 39). I like to be positive though and it gives me hope that LGBTI young people at schools where protective policies are in place are more likely to feel safe compared with those in schools without similar policies (75 per cent compared with 45 per cent). They are almost 50 per cent less likely to be physically abused at school, less likely to suffer other forms of homophobic abuse, less likely to self-harm and less likely to attempt suicide (T Jones and Western Australian Equal Opportunity Commission, A report about discrimination and bullying on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Western Australian education (2012), p 11). I would think that having this resource available in schools can only have a positive impact, as it appears to be doing, and it certainly isn’t doing what this article is trying to suggest.

With the lack of such a resource in those times, I sought the advice of a teacher (who was also presumably gay, but I’ll never know for sure) who I felt comfortable enough with to share the thoughts I was having. He did help me understand that while I was probably having different thoughts to most of the other boys at school, there was nothing wrong with the thoughts I was having. I am very lucky to have had someone give me this reassurance at a time of need so I didn’t go down the path that sadly too many LGBTI youth go down.

The statistics glaringly show the disparity of mental health, self-harm and suicide in the LGBTI community to that of heterosexuals:

  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians are twice as likely to have a high/very high level of psychological distress as their heterosexual peers (18.2% v. 9.2%). This makes them particularly vulnerable to mental health problems
  • The younger the age group, the starker the differences: 55% of LGBT women aged between 16 and 24 compared with 18% in the nation as a whole and 40% of LGBT men aged 16-24 compared with 7%
  • LGBTI people have the highest rates of suicidality of any population in Australia – 20% of trans Australians and 15.7% of lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians report current suicidal ideation (thoughts)
  • A UK study reported 84% of trans participants having thought about ending their lives at some point
  • Up to 50% of trans people have actually attempted suicide at least once in their lives
  • Same-sex attracted Australians have up to 14 times higher rates of suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers
  • Rates are 6 times higher for same-sex attracted young people (20-42% cf. 7-13%)
  • The average age of a first suicide attempt is 16 years – often before ‘coming out’ Source: Rosenstreich, G. (2013) LGBTI People Mental Health and Suicide. Revised 2nd Edition. National LGBTI Health Alliance. Sydney, p 5.

That all makes for very sobering reading. It also highlights just how critical it is for young people to be supported throughout their journey into adulthood, not to have some elitist set blast false headlines and news stories across their front pages suggesting otherwise. It’s because of continued homophobic examples like this that almost half of all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people hide their sexual orientation or gender identity in public for fear of violence or discrimination (Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, note 7, p 46). It’s also why a large number of LGBTI people hide their sexuality or gender identity when accessing services (34 per cent), at social and community events (42 per cent) and at work (39 per cent). Young people aged 16 to 24 years are most likely to hide their sexuality or gender identity (Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of GLBT Australians (2012) pp 45-46). I wonder why that is.

I am a part of those statistics. Countless times, I have hidden my sexuality from friends, work colleagues, family, Barry next door – you name it. I have encountered discrimination based on my sexuality. A previous boss of mine commented to someone else at this workplace (after I had left that workplace) that he would not have hired me had he known I was gay. I am scared to hold the hand of another man in public for fear of being abused – something I have seen happen in Melbourne before. The number of conversations I have had where I actively used words to avoid questions of why I did not have a girlfriend all those years, or where I faked an interest in “blokey” conversations to keep the charade going. This was all due to the world around me – a world that still tells me I’m not equal. That my love for another man is not the same as the love between a man and a woman. Yes, it’s 2016 and we’re supposedly advancing, but the simple fact is that I am still discriminated against, simply for the love I have for someone of the same sex. So, if there is a teaching aide in our schools reaffirming that we are all the same even though we have our unique identifiers, and that those differences are to be embraced rather than shamed, I am all for that. I am hopeful that the youth of today have more confidence to be themselves and not hide their true identity for as many years as I felt I had to. But as long as mainstream media continues to peddle this hysterical and utterly damaging sensationalism, we still have a long way to go. LGBTI young people report experiencing verbal homophobic abuse (61 per cent), physical homophobic abuse (18 per cent) and other types of homophobia (9 per cent), including cyberbullying, graffiti, social exclusion and humiliation (Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of GLBT Australians (2012) pp 45-46). These headlines just perpetuate these experiences and the people that write them ought to be held accountable for these actions.

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