Two friends excitedly checking their sports betting app on their phone, as they watch a soccer match together

In Australia, gambling is a socially accepted behaviour, actively encouraged through more than $287 million dollars of advertising spending per year, and a source of more than seven billion dollars of revenue per year for governments. Gambling revenue for sporting bodies is also significant although exact figures are hard to obtain. Culturally, gambling behaviours are celebrated, ritualised, and even mythologised.

Through public discourse and advertising, gambling has become intrinsically linked to our everyday activities, and in particular the Aussie notion of mateship. We are encouraged to gamble with our friends, gamble while consuming alcohol to make it more fun, gamble in social venues, while eating, and on our mobile devices. We are encouraged to share our betting wins, near wins, and losses with friends and loved ones. We laugh, cry, yell, and cheer for our team/horse, talk about sporting events in terms of betting odds, and impress ourselves and others with our betting skills and knowledge of the form/ event. And of course, we share our expertise/ knowledge with our friends and loved ones.

‘Tipping’ is a worldwide phenomena but has special significance in Australian culture. Tipping involves sharing what we know with others, and potentially being rewarded with their praise and gratitude, gifts, or financial ‘slings’. Everyone loves a good tip. We often share tips with our friends in hushed tones, and with restrained excitement. Often the tip itself and the lead up to the race or event is more enjoyable than the win. Gambling and tipping is as much about the shared cultural activity as it is the money. It is part of our identities and influences how we feel about ourselves. It is possible to lose money gambling, yet still derive positive self-esteem from the activity. Many of us identify strongly with our perceived skills in forecasting results.

Predicting results for gambling purposes involves hypothesis testing, evaluating outcomes, and then reformulating hypotheses repeatedly. This strong investment of self partly explains why we can publicly endorse and encourage an activity in which we know that most, in fact nearly all gamblers lose money overall. The odds are stacked against the gambler. The industry exists to financially reward the regulating bodies, the bookies, the industry stakeholders, and a small percentage of professional gamblers. The rest of us enjoy the thoughts of what might be, the social bonds, the behavioural reinforcement schedules, and the ego investment.

When we do this without causing harm to ourselves or others, we call this ‘gambling in moderation’. There is of course the dark side of gambling.

As much as we celebrate gambling in moderation, we despise problematic, harm causing, unethical, corrupt, or illegal gambling. Nearly eight per cent of Australians (1.38 million) are at some risk of experiencing gambling related harms, and a small proportion of those people engage in criminal activities related to their gambling. Gambling-related sports corruption is also increasing globally. Whereas in the past, gambling was restricted to public venues and the result of an event, gambling is now at our fingertips with bookmakers all over the world offering multiple bet types for any one event. Micro bets, such as whether a cricket bowler will bowl a no ball in a particular over are particularly prone to corruption or spot fixing.

Corruption can occur at an individual level, through a club or organisation, or through organised crime. It is important to remind ourselves that the dark side of gambling is at the end of a continuum of behaviours, and that we need to reflect on our gambling behaviours and gambling related social interactions, and take responsibility for our actions. Research suggests that individual sport corruption can be motivated by a number of factors. Strain theory suggests that societal pressures can cause stress, frustration, and anger, and lead to criminal, anti-social behaviour. Other individuals choose to disengage with their morals (moral disengagement) in order to avoid the feelings of guilt associated with criminal activity.

There is also social contagion theory. This involves the adoption of the attitudes, values, and behaviours of those around us. If we see others we know doing something repeatedly it can become normalised, and our critical judgement may fail to activate. It is particularly important in the current Australian cultural gambling climate that we all apply our critical moral, and ethical judgement to our own, and to our friends’ gambling behaviours. It is definitely prudent to ask for the source and nature of any ‘tip’ before placing a bet.

 

Author

Dr Peter Gill
Psychology Lecturer and Researcher, Victoria University