Sports betting ‘tsunami’ leaving lives of young Australians in ruins

By ABC sports editor David Mark, July 9, 2016

Trent Moran can now watch a game of football without his heart racing; without having an anxiety attack. He can sit at a table with friends, without making secretive bets on his mobile phone under the table. The 29-year-old project manager no longer wonders whether suicide is an option. That’s now.

But for the best part of the last decade his life was very different as he spiralled into gambling addiction. His vice? Online sports betting. His is a familiar story. It started with the pokies, but one bet on a Melbourne Storm NRL game changed everything.

“It just seemed so easy and I was like this isn’t chance. There was some science behind this, I knew stuff about it. So it just sort of snowballed from there.”

Just like it was for the young men on the ads that run incessantly during any football game, it was fun.

“It seemed so easy to put on a bet that was not a lot of money and you got a decent enough return. And I was like, oh that was so easy.”

But then it turns. You lose.

“It hurts a bit, you know. I just had that money in my hand and now it’s gone. Oh well I’ll go a bit tamer, something that’s a sure thing, and double up again. And very quickly – do that two or three times – and you’re a thousand dollars behind where you started. I was chasing it from that point.”

“It got more and more unrealistic. I was betting on things I knew nothing about, like Russian ice hockey. I’d be putting multi-bets on three Slovakian teams playing against three other eastern European teams – just throwing darts at the wall.”

He reckons he bet half a million dollars and lost hundreds of thousands. Constant gambling on sports on his mobile phone was taking over his life.

“I felt sick most of the time, like I’d be sitting on the couch at home and everyone else would be sitting there relaxing and my heart rate would be through the roof. I was just stressed beyond belief,” he said.

“I was suicidal by the end of it. At that stage I couldn’t see another way out of it.”

It’s a story that Dr Cameron McIntosh, a clinical psychologist at the St Vincent’s Hospital Gambling Treatment program in Sydney, has heard many times over. Young men are increasingly presenting to gambling treatment centres – some have seen a 15 to 20 per cent rise in recent years. But Dr McIntosh believes that’s just the beginning.

“I think there is a potential tsunami waiting for us in terms of trying to meet the demands of treating people with this problem,” he said.

“Given that this population is 18-to-34 year old males, it could very well be a generational type of issue.”

And it’s almost always all young men who are into sports betting.

“The profile is of a male 18-34 years of age, usually with professional skills and access to money. They’re presenting with gambling, substance abuse, mood disorders like anxiety and depression,” Dr McIntosh said.

He said he was concerned about what he calls the normalisation of online sports betting through its portrayal in TV ads.

As Moran says: “They make it seem like it’s not betting”.

“They glorify it a lot, like there are guys sitting at a pub high-fiving and everyone’s thinking that’s like it’s the key to fun.”

Watch any game of footy and you’re likely to see up to six or seven ads for online betting companies. And that’s no surprise: the Australian sporting codes are intimately entwined with the gambling industry. The National Rugby League has a commercial deal with Sportsbet worth $60 million, while the AFL has a ten million dollar a year deal with CrownBet. Half of the NRL’s 16 teams have a corporate bookmaker as a major sponsor.

Moran says he can’t believe the code can take money from betting agents.

“In terms of just integrity, I don’t understand how a team can be running around taking money from someone who’s running a market on it as well. It’s just massively too prevalent,” he said.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon says gambling reform is one of his major priorities and an issue he’s raising in his discussions with the potential new governments.

“These are young men that won’t be able to afford a deposit on their first home or an overseas trip. Who could lose their homes, who could find themselves bankrupt and their relationships destroyed as a result of their online gambling addictions and the government and the opposition still don’t get it,” he said.

He wants to ban sports betting ads while children are watching and believes, with a tight parliament, the Government will have to act.

“I would have thought that in a razor majority situation, then that is something that the government ought to be acutely aware of and ought to take into account; the concerns of the overwhelming majority of Australians, that think that sports betting and sports betting advertising has got out of control.”

The Australian Wagering Council, the peak body for some of the big players in the industry, said in a statement says its members “acknowledge community concerns around the volume and placement of wagering advertising and want to open discussion on how best to address these concerns”.

The good news for Trent Moran is that he has beaten his addiction. It began with an intervention from his family.

“There was a bit of an ultimatum. Fix this and get help or, on top of losing my money, I would have lost my family, my partner, my friends, everything,” he said.

“I was lucky enough to have a partner, and family and a best mate that are all massively supportive of me and have been, but I was just massively letting them down.”

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