Oh, the irony. On 11 August 2011, the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform held a public hearing in Melbourne. As a result Senator Xenophon is reported to have been outraged at the practice of betting operators paying commissions. But why do I argue that this is ironic?

Sport has a particular position in our collective consciousness unlike most other matters. There are other things we like, even if we don’t wish to admit it, such as watching television, eating food and sleeping on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon. But show me a newspaper which covers television, food or sleeping like it covers sports. I‘ve not done any formal research to take measurements, but I suspect the only topic which gets coverage in the media anything like sport is politics.

What else do sport and politics have in common? Well, both are numbers games and both require supporters who are willing to stick through thick and thin. And both are associated with betting.

Which makes this comment a while back on Twitter very interesting…

“Betting agencies have suspended betting on the Federal ALP leadership after what @3AW693 News reports was a ‘huge plunge’ on Simon Crean.”

For the purpose of this article, I’m not interested in the Federal ALP leadership or Simon Crean’s aspirations, if indeed he has any. What does get my attention, though, is the link to betting.

Sports betting continues to be a topic of significant interest, not just because of the Joint Select Committee’s public hearing. Recently we’ve seen the AFL suspend one player and fine another. That the AFL has done so is the result of three related matters. First, the AFL could take that action because each player is bound by rules in relation to betting that were broken; secondly, the AFL took action because it received information from a betting company about transactions which implicated those players; and thirdly, the betting company would have handed over that information because it had an obligation to do so. That obligation would be in an agreement between the AFL and the betting company.

Legislation in place in Victoria requires all betting companies to enter into agreements with sports approved by the Victorian gaming regulator as a ‘sports controlling body’. In fact, it is an offence for a betting company to take bets on an approved sports controlling body’s activities without such agreements being in place.

While there will be some who will see the AFL’s recent actions as a sign of a problem, I see it the other way. I am convinced that it shows the regulatory scheme is working. The AFL is protecting the integrity of its product and the Victorian legislation has empowered it to do so. Given that betting on sport will always occur whether it is legalised or not, I would much prefer to see players and sports protected from corrupt practices. A legislated scheme provides a much greater chance of this occurring.

So, what should we make of the statement that there has been a ‘huge plunge’ on Simon Crean to become Prime Minister? While this form of betting fits loosely under the banner of ‘sports betting’ it is, in fact, a misclassification. Yes, the betting component has similarities to sports betting in that it is a form of fixed odds betting with punters placing a bet on a particular outcome, but the same protections which are in place for sport don’t exist for politics. There is, of course, no sport involved and, more importantly, no controlling body – like the AFL – to manage it. As a consequence, there is no regulatory obligation for a bookmaker to pass information on to anyone about suspicious betting transactions. So, we don’t know whether the plunge reported is caused by someone ‘in the know’ placing a bet; whether something as simple as public conjecture has encouraged more bets on Simon Crean; or, indeed, whether the so-called plunge is just a bookmaker quoting a shortened price as a marketing tool to attract punters to its brand.

If the plunge had involved a betting option associated with a genuine sport, the alleged plunge could be properly investigated. It would allow for an assessment to be made as to whether there is some information an insider is familiar with but which is not available to the market as a whole. But because politics is not a sport, it isn’t covered by the same regulatory rules that apply to sports betting. While the consequences might be significant for the Prime Minister, from a betting point of view those choosing to bet on exotic events – such as politics or reality television – should be warned that the same protections don’t exist for non-sporting betting options as do for sport.

It’s a shame, because I’d like to believe there is integrity in politics.