Off the Wall

Another day - another gambling sponsorship deal to be sealed by an NRL club!

This time it is the Melbourne Storm, who will accept with open arms a significant sponsorship from Crown Casino, arguably the flag shop when it comes to sponsorship by gambling entities.

The Storm lost many of its sponsors when the club fell into disgrace last season, and Crown will be its first major new sponsor since then.

The announcement comes on the same day one of the games most respected former administrators, Ken Arthurson, has condemned the proliferation of betting options on NRL matches, and he demanded the code sever its relationship with several leading betting agencies, calling the trend a "blight on the game".

Long term readers of this column will be aware that I am not advocating a ban on gambling on rugby league matches, or even an end to sponsorship agreements with betting companies.

What I want is for a strong regulatory regime to be put in place - one based on what the racing industry has been forced to implement to protect its integrity.

Banning it would simply send it underground where it once flourished. I can recall when racing bookmakers and well known punters sat in the outer at Lang Park openly taking bets on Brisbane club matches - long before legalised sports betting started.

And the career of one of the games leading referees ended in massive controversy in the 1960's after it was alleged be was paid by punters to "rig" the outcome of a grand final.

So betting on rugby league is not new. It is just now legalised.

When I urged the NRL to introduce better monitoring I did so based on a lifetime association with the racing industry - my grand father owned and trained race horses, I have owned race horses and greyhounds (with very modest success), and I am a regular punter - on horse racing.

I watched the racing industry having to toughen its rules and penalties, and its monitoring procedures, to stop jockeys betting on races, and to detect the many other rorts that have been tried, and pulled off, over the years.

Recently, one of racing's best jockeys, Blake Shinn, was disqualified for a year after being found guilty of betting on races, even though there was no evidence or allegation of rorting.

A lifetime following racing, and being a student of racing history, simply convinces me that whenever you have gambling, rorts will be attempted.

Gambling on rugby league, on cricket, or anything else is no different.

I don't criticise the Storm for signing up Crown Casino. It may well cause envy among other codes.

I simply hope the NRL realises where the game is at when it comes to gambling on it, and what that requires.

And that the clubs now benefiting from the upsurge in gambling sponsorship are prepared to play their role as well.

We have time to avoid our gambling links being a "blight on the game"... but not much time!

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