If I were a bettin’ man, I’d wager a lot of you watched the Melbourne Cup. Odds-on you knocked off early and went to a messy lunch, too. A bob each way says some of you dressed up like flippin’ dandies at some racecourse or another and even money says you placed a few bets.
But a bettin’ man I ain’t – never have been – which is nothing short of miraculous given the collective efforts of this country to turn me into one. Aussies, the saying goes, would bet on two flies crawling up a wall. Well, hand on heart, I have never expended a single dollar gambling on the fortunes of a horse, a dog, a frog, a fly or anything else.
Of course I know plenty of blokes who say they ‘love a punt’ – including an old school mate who lost his job, was given a suspended jail sentence and ordered to do 300 hours community service for stealing $40,000 from his employer to fund said passion – but I just don’t get it.
None of these mates and acquaintances live in palaces or drive Lamborghinis – they’re all middle-grade worker bees like me. Yet they all reach for the credit card every time there’s a horse race, a car race, a dog race, a game of soccer, footy, cricket, tiddlywinks or a by-election to bet on. “Oh, it just makes it more interesting, Hendo!” they’ll explain as they place another bet, usually to lose it.
Really? Is the State Of Origin not interesting enough for ya? Thirty-four blokes trying to kill each other across three games showcasing abject brutality and athletic skill?
These are the blokes who pay attention to the cavalcade of calculating and insulting TV ads that virtually dare guys – and it’s always guys – to bet on sport around the clock. Spruiking the online services of outfits like Ladbrokes and SportsBet, these ads are always voiced by actors who try to sound like the biggest, boofiest mate you ever had, and reckon it’s ‘never been easier’ to place a bet.
Rubbish. Betting has been easy since Adam was a boy. In fact Australian boys – who happen to be the biggest gamblers on earth – are indoctrinated from early childhood via the fabled Melbourne Cup.
Indeed the closest I came to gambling was on the very first and very last occasion I entered a sweep in honour of The Race That Stops A Nation.
It was Melbourne Cup Day, 1974. I was a six-year-old in primary school. On the eve of the race, my teacher Mrs Toohey told us to ask mum and dad to give us five cents to bring to school the next day so we could partake in the class 1-T ‘sweep’.
Mrs Toohey explained a sweep was a special pastime in which we could win money during the famous horsey race in Melbourne. And we’d listen to it on the radio instead of learning! Hooray, hooray!
I galloped home a couple of notches above excited. I imagined how the sweep would involve all the kids in 1-T being handed little brooms so we could ‘sweep’ up piles of sparkling five-cent pieces that were sure to tinkle across the playground when the big race started. That night I dreamed I purchased a new scooter with my winnings.
Boy, was I in for a wake-up call.
The sweep was dead-set boring. It involved lining up to scrounge a piece of paper from Mrs Toohey’s dad’s top hat. The race itself (barely audible on the transistor) was about as thrilling to six-year-olds as Senate estimates. As for the result of the legendary game of horses and hats? I lost my five cents and, with it, any notion of ever again parting with money like a mug.
Over the years I’ve wondered what impact that sweep had on the kid who won it. He would’ve been gifted something like $1.20 worth of shiny little coins – a king’s ransom for a snot-nosed kid in 1974.
On Cup Day this year I wondered how much my victorious classmate might have punted on the shenanigans at Flemington. I wondered if he had a chronic pokies habit, too. I wondered whether he was among the 500,000 or so Australians who either have, or who are in danger of developing, a destructive, problem-gambling habit.
I wondered whether he was among those gamblers who are six times more likely to divorce than nongamblers. I wondered if he’d blown anything in the vicinity of the $21,000 every problem gambler in Australia loses on average every year. Did he end up stealing to fund his love of the punt?
Look, I’m no angel – I’ve smoked and drunk too much – but I reckon there’s something extra evil about the vice of gambling. Everybody needs money in order to survive, and the sole aim of the gaming industry is to separate us from ours.
That’s my five cents worth anyway.