Gambling expert calls for WADA-style monitoring of athletes

BRISBANE, Australia — A leading Australian gambling researcher says he hopes the U.S. entry into live sports betting might help his push for an international anti-corruption unit to monitor athletes, similar to the World Anti-Doping Agency for illegal drug-taking.

Charles Livingstone, the head of the gambling and social determinants unit at Melbourne's Monash University, told The Associated Press he's been proposing for several years the formation of the monitoring agency for potential corruption among athletes.

"Now that the United States is going to allow gambling on sporting events, I'm hoping it might become a real possibility," Livingstone said.

A U.S Supreme Court decision last week clearing the way for states to legalize sports betting came 10 years after Australia's highest court did similar to allow more widespread betting on sporting events Down Under.

After a gambling agency challenged existing laws, a 2008 Australian High Court decision removed restrictions preventing bookmakers licensed in one jurisdiction from advertising in another. This change prompted the entry of international corporate bookmakers into the Australian sports market to capitalize on the country's penchant for both gambling and sport.

It has spurred a whole range of new betting options, including some on minute detail.

Livingstone said one way to reduce the potential for corruption among athletes would be to stop so-called "spot betting" where gamblers can bet on such things as how the first points in a game might be scored, or when the first double-fault might occur in a tennis match.

Australian rugby league player Ryan Tandy was convicted of trying to manipulate the first score of a 2010 National Rugby League match and a former Australian Open junior champion was banned for seven years for purposely losing the first set of a match at a low-level tournament.

"Ban spot-betting," Livingstone says bluntly. "There is enormous potential for corruption. It's a small step from there to starting to throw games." He says a WADA-style agency monitoring corruption could also help educate athletes, as the anti-doping agency does.

Government figures show that 80 percent of Australians gamble, the highest percentage of any country (Singapore is second, Ireland third) although that figure includes those who might bet once a year on a horse race or play the lottery. More than a billion Australian dollars ($758 million) is spent each year on live sports gambling in the country.

Here are some other things to know about gambling on live sports in Australia:

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

Many Australian sporting events and individual teams and stadiums have entered into commercial marketing arrangements with the corporate bookmakers. It is most prominent in the two largest Australian sports, the National Rugby League and Australian Football League, which attract about half of all sports betting in Australia.

Their target audience is the top gambling demographic as determined by numerous studies: single men aged between 18 and 29.

Two years ago, the Australian Open tennis tournament had the banner of a British-based gambling company prominently displayed on the main Rod Laver Arena. The branding issue was cast into the spotlight because just as the tournament was starting, reports of a major scandal involving match-fixing in the sport were published in Britain. Cricket, which has also been hit by match-fixing, had another major betting company's logo appear on the boundary ropes in an Australian test match.

GAMBLING ADS BANNED

In an attempt to reduce compulsive gambling, Australian authorities banned gambling advertisements during the broadcast of live sports between 5 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. on commercial free-to-air TV, radio and pay TV from March 30. The biggest criticism of the ads was that betting company representatives, appearing like they were network employees and part of the telecasts, provided changing odds for bettors during the event.

THE COST

Government figures from 2016 show Australian gambling losses hit an all-time high after bettors lost nearly A$24 billion ($18.2 billion). More than half of that was lost gambling at poker machines (slot machines) at pubs, clubs and casinos across the country. Betting on live sports remains the fastest-growing form of gambling, thanks to betting company apps on mobile phones that allow betting anywhere or anytime.

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