Colin Regan, GAA Community and Health Manager, has called on media outlets to rethink their approach to including betting odds in sports coverage at a time when gambling addiction is a major problem.
Traditionally, odds were confined to horse and greyhound racing but have increased substantially across most sports, including Gaelic games.
Regan’s comments come as the GAA steps up its efforts to prevent players, team managements and match officials gambling on games in which they have a direct involvement.
Congress legislated on the matter last February, introducing a rule whereby breaches by individuals will be punishable by various sanctions, ranging from an eight-week suspension to expulsion from the Association.
If a team is found to have broken the rule, an eight-week ban is the minimum punishment but fines, disqualification and expulsion are also catered for.
The GAA has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Paddy Power/ Betfair and is working towards having a similar arrangement with the Irish Bookmakers’ Association, which caters for the vast majority of operators in the industry.
“It creates an understanding between us and the bookmakers in terms of protecting all sides and, most of all, the integrity of our games,” said Regan.
Director-general Páraic Duffy said that the unanimous support the motion received at Congress proved how serious the GAA was about the gambling issue.
“Gambling is a concern that wasn’t there in the past – certainly not to anything like the degree it is now. That’s why we have brought in the rule and why we have made the sanctions for breaking it so tough,” he said.
Signing a Memorandum of Understanding with bookmakers, which is common in most international sports, was a natural follow-up to the introduction of the new GAA rule.
“The Irish Bookmaking Association approached us in light of the motion that came before Congress. They saw that there was going to be a need for them to tighten things up on their side. We’re still working with them on that but an arrangement will be put in place. It’s in everybody’s interest,” said Regan.
Policing the rule will, as many sports have discovered, be difficult for the GAA. However, Regan believes that there are enough examples of detection elsewhere to show that a relationship between organisations and bookmakers work.
“If a player has a betting account and uses it for a game where he is involved, he should be mindful that with the type of technology now at the disposal of the bookmaking firms, bets can be monitored and tracked right down to individual level,” he said.
Regan, who played senior football with Leitrim for 14 years, believes that while the new rule will cut down the risk of players being tempted to bet on games in which they are involved, there’s a much wider dimension to a gambling problem which has increased across all sports in recent years.
“Betting options are in your face almost all the time. The sports media have a big part to play here. Surely, sport can be covered without mentioning betting so much? Both the broadcast and print media are constantly referring to odds, almost as if it’s part of the event rather than something that has attached itself to it. I was listening to a sports programme on radio recently and, in the space of around 15 minutes, there were seven references to odds.
“One of the recommendations was that, ‘You could put your house on it.’ That’s just a phrase to most people but, sadly, for people with a gambling addiction, it can be all too true. Research in this area has shown that people with a gambling problem are often two or three times their annual income in debt before they reach out for help. Each case impacts on five or six others so it’s obvious the damage problem gambling can have,” said Regan.
Relationships between bookmakers and the media is also an area of concern, according to Regan, who himself is a former journalist.
“Sports media need to be upfront about their links with bookmakers. Some sports shows are partly sponsored by bookmakers and, as a result, are required to have them on to discuss odds and to mention them at other times.
“I also know journalists who are invited to the races or wherever by bookmakers. It all looks innocent enough but there’s a lack of transparency in this whole area. I think the sports media need to be more conscious of what’s going on.
“For the vast majority of people, gambling is a relatively harmless pursuit but for others, it can have a devastating effect, as we have seen all too often. We’re trying to make sure that the GAA operates very best practice in this area,” said Regan.
The GAA led the campaign to outlaw betting on underage sports and bookmakers responded by removing it. However, that was only a small part of a much wider betting scene, which is made easy by modern technology, especially mobile phones.
Oisín McConville (Armagh), Niall McNamee (Offaly) and Davy Glennon (Galway) are among the high-profile players who have spoken openly about their gambling addiction and the impact it had on their lives.
The problem has also been well-ventilated by the GPA, whose counselling service has been busy dealing with gambling-related issues over recent years. The GAA now plans to work with the GPA in an awareness campaign to highlight the existence of the new rule and any other issues that may arise from it. There are also plans for a training programme for team officials.
“The more the gambling problem is highlighted the better. It’s certainly not unique to the GAA but we want to ensure that we are doing everything to deal with it as effectively as we can. We have taken some big steps in that regard,” said Regan.