There has been plenty of correspondence received over the NRL’s support for the Leagues Club industry over proposed poker machine reforms as well as the issue of Rugby League’s integrity agreements with betting agencies.
These are important issues that have raised considerable emotion and we are happy to address them.
Firstly it is important to recognise that problem gambling is an issue in society. It takes an enormous toll on people’s lives. This is not a debate about the need to address problem gambling but one about the wider, perhaps unintended, ramifications of those reforms.
While problem gambling is a genuine concern the undeniable reality is that for many Australians and the vast majority of those who visit licensed clubs, gambling is an enjoyable and common recreational pursuit and the opportunities to gamble have grown significantly.
Unlike most others involved in this industry, Leagues Clubs have a strong commitment to returning revenue to the community. These clubs were started to support Rugby League but their community support goes well beyond that. Other sports including many AFL clubs now also rely heavily on poker machine revenue.
Leagues Clubs have invested substantially in preventing problem gambling and in assisting problem gamblers. This is one of the reasons why the rate of problem gambling in NSW has halved during the past five years according to independent government funded studies cited by Clubs Australia in presenting its case.
The people in the industry are aware of the issues and their strong belief is that the proposed changes will not stop problem gamblers (particularly given the growing number of other betting options in the community) and that it is instead likely to affect recreational gamblers who do not want to have to make a pre-commitment about what they will or won’t put into a gaming machine. Clubs Australia says it has been publicly supported in this view by many problem gamblers as well as some of Australia’s leading gambling experts and problem gambling counsellors.
The NRL does not propose to be the expert in this area but it is in no doubt about the sincerity of the Leagues Clubs in their belief, the concerns of the clubs about the effects of the legislation and the experience the clubs have in understanding these issues.
It is important in the debate that people understand the effects that a loss in Leagues Club revenue will have on Rugby League and sport in general and that is why the NRL has supported the Clubs Australia campaign.
In terms of the NRL’s integrity agreements with betting agencies it is important to again note that the NRL did not initiate sports betting on Rugby League. This is something that has been happening both legally and illegally for many years and that was legalised by governments both through corporate bookmakers and on-line in recent years.
The NRL has been a key driver with other professional sports in establishing integrity agreements with betting operators to ensure greater transparency over betting activities and to have a right of veto over bet types.
These agreements have also established that those who profit on Rugby League should return a share of that profit to the sport itself.
The agreements have allowed the NRL to fully investigate a number of issues and it is the only sport to have done so with the assistance of independent experts such as Racing NSW’s Chairman of Stewards Ray Murrihy and the NSW Police. It has led the way in reducing exotic bet types around the game.
The NRL has been an active participant in supporting the Coalition of Professional Sports along with Federal and State Sports Ministers in developing national programs to address integrity issues in sport.
These include ongoing discussions with broadcasters about the promotion of gambling during telecasts - something that is currently not controlled by the sports themselves.
Again it is easy to say sports should have nothing to do with gambling but the reality is that gambling has taken place around sport for many years and will no doubt continue to, regardless of what the sports may or may not want.
The agreements that the NRL has established with betting operators and the responsible approach of the Leagues Club industry have provided an important balance that deserves recognition.