In a two-page letter to AFL president Gillon McLachlan, AGR chief advocate Reverend Tim Costello said he was “utterly disappointed” in the AFL's sponsorship deal with BetEasy.
Dear Mr McLachlan,
I write this open letter to express my utter disappointment in the AFL for signing a new sponsorship deal with gambling giant BetEasy.
On an almost daily basis, I have people coming up to me and asking “what are you doing about gambling and the AFL? I can’t stand having my kids think gambling is a normal part of footy.” It breaks my heart to have to tell them that the Alliance for Gambling Reform, and our many supporters, have repeatedly asked the AFL to reconsider its relationships with gambling, to no avail.
The AFL markets itself as being a family-friendly league. At this point that is laughable — nothing is family-friendly about gambling.
If anything, gambling is anti-families. Gambling harm exacerbates family violence, and it is also a cause and outcome of mental ill-health for many people. How can the AFL purport to be a leader on addressing mental ill-health while taking money from an industry associated with 22% of the costs to the Victorian mental health system?
I simply cannot fathom why the AFL would stake its reputation on an industry designed to manipulate, addict and exploit people.
Imagine if you accepted sponsorships from tobacco companies? The outcry would be heard from the MCG down to Kardinia Park (a ground that has rightfully banned all gambling advertising).
Just last year, another three AFL footy clubs turned their backs on the (very lucrative) rort that is poker machines, because they recognised that no amount of money would outweigh the harm caused and that ownership was very clearly out of step with community standards.
The AFL had the opportunity to do the right thing and not renew its deal with BetEasy; to listen to players such as Easton Wood who can’t bear the thought of their income being linked to gambling harm; to listen to the three-quarters of Australian parents who say they are bothered by their children being exposed to gambling advertising and don’t want them watching the game they love in terms of odds.
Choosing to break this extraordinary link with a betting company would not impact the AFL's ability to effectively police players or protect the integrity of the game, as is so often claimed. This is a convenient argument used to hide behind the fact that the AFL has made a calculated decision to put its own profits before the community.
Gambling may well be legal, but just like smoking, the harm from gambling takes an enormous toll on far too many Australians — the industry’s entire business model is based on profiting from those who suffer the most.
The sad reality of the millions of dollars coming to the AFL from BetEasy is it is literally taking food off of some tables.
The hypocrisy of the AFL promoting healthy lifestyles through Auskick while exposing children to a toxic, adult product is astounding. You just have to read people’s reaction on social media to your announcement or read the many letters to the editor in The Age, to realise footy fans are taking note of this too. Not only does this deal damage family, but it also damages your brand.
The AFL rightly makes it their business to take a stand on important social issues — racism, marriage equality, violence against women, disability inclusion — recognising that its voice matters in these debates. Of course, none of these causes come at any real financial cost to the AFL. It’s easy to take a stand when it doesn’t affect your bottom line.
At the end of the day, the AFL is a non-profit organisation that exists to support and serve the community of fans and players that love the game, but not at any cost.
Australia has spoken to the AFL on this subject, but the AFL has ignored us. We don’t want our game, or the brand you are currently custodian of, to be associated with gambling anymore. You say “if it’s not us, it’ll just be someone else”, but you and I both know better than that. We know the value of being the AFL’s “Official Wagering Partner”. We know what BetEasy are really buying. They are buying access to the next generation. They are buying the AFL’s seal of approval. They are buying the values that the AFL so boldly stands behind. They are buying your endorsement. They are buying you off.
And for what? The AFL booked a $50 million profit in 2018. Surely you can forego this $10 million a year to send a clear message to the children of Australia who currently watch their favourite Marvel characters appear alongside BetEasy ads at the game.
You are better than this. The AFL is better than this. And the children of Australia deserve better than this.
So what will your legacy be? Sooner or later gambling ads will go the way of tobacco. What side of history will you be on?
Will you be the CEO of Australia’s national game who took a stand against gambling harm? Or the CEO who was responsible for an entire generation of Australian children never having the opportunity to watch an AFL game without seeing gambling ads? I know which CEO I’d rather be.
I urge you to listen to the community, to your game’s fans and rescind the AFL’s BetEasy contract so that the game we all love so much is not sullied by its association with an industry that destroys families.
Rev Tim Costello
Alliance for Gambling Reform