Tuesday 22 January 2019

RTE jumps into the orgy of gambling

New deal with Boylesports will make betting easier - when it should be made harder.

RTE's new deal with Boylesports will make betting easier; Illustration by Jim Cogan
RTE's new deal with Boylesports will make betting easier; Illustration by Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

RTE Sport announced a remarkable sponsorship deal with Boylesports last week, whereby the bookie will sponsor the station's coverage of horse-racing for the next two years. It was remarkable both for the amount of money involved - which runs into seven figures - and for the fact that otherwise, nobody seemed to find it remarkable.

RTE itself seemed to be simply delighted, with its commercial manager declaring "offering cut-through across all platforms under one brand is RTE's unique offering to the market".

That's two "offerings" in the one sentence, as if to emphasise the sweetness of the deal, in which "Boylesports has secured a powerful association with Irish racing across all of RTE's market-leading platforms".

But apart from marvelling at its size, nobody found it remarkable that RTE is getting hitched to the gambling industry at a time when there is increasing awareness of the astonishingly addictive nature of online gambling in particular.

Nobody saw this deal as being different in any way to one that RTE might have with the makers of Flahavan's porridge, or Cidona. Even in the week of the verdict in the deeply tragic Chada case, which had an element of online gambling, this story just sailed through.

And the dimensions of it can further be deduced by RTE's statement that along with Boylesports, they will "develop innovative integrations between live television and mobile applications to support the ever-increasing number of sports fans who are watching racing while multi-tasking through their mobile devices."

So there it is - RTE is getting involved in that powerful synergy between online betting and television and sport, which would probably be fine if RTE was Sky Sports, enabling you to start betting just by pressing the red button.

But RTE has other matters to consider, apart from "offering cut-through across all platforms under one brand". While its commercial wing may regard this as RTE's unique offering, there is another school of thought which suggests that RTE's unique offering is quite different - that before it cuts through anything, it asks itself various questions that Sky Sports never has to ask, questions such as: "Why are we helping to make gambling easier, when every vaguely sane person is saying that it should be made harder?"

Maybe they were away for the summer, so they missed that interview with Gary Lineker, in which the BBC man who normally oozes contentment about all things, expressed his dismay that "all you ever see is commercials for gambling and apps . . . as a parent I worry about it, all those ads bombarding you with in-play betting."

A month earlier in The Times, the political correspondent Rachel Sylvester, who had known nothing of such things, wrote a column in which she described how her seven-year-old son was quoting freely from betting ads, using terms like "cash-out" - the World Cup had become a vast carnival for the betting corporations, an orgy of advertising aimed at recruiting anyone still left out there who might fancy a lifetime of punting. Indeed, even those who have been completely blind to the phenomenon will surely have noticed that these ads tend adroitly to avoid the awkward realities of existence, so that you will not see a man using his phone to have a bet as he holds his sleeping child, or perhaps as he strolls in the park with his family on a Sunday afternoon.

These men would be among what RTE calls "the ever-increasing number of sports fans who are watching racing while multi-tasking through their mobile devices", a section of the community that RTE wants to be "supporting" with "these innovative integrations".

They will say that horse-racing has always been inextricably linked with betting, and that is true. Though it is worth noting that there was a time in ancient TV history when the BBC didn't have "shows of betting" in its racing coverage. It took the view that betting was indeed part of the game, but that as a matter of policy, it behoved those in a position of responsibility to do nothing that might encourage it - yes, there was a time when society in general was quite worried about gambling, but clearly that is no longer the case, because we're all adults now, and we can handle it.

In this new dispensation, the argument about betting being inextricably linked to horse-racing has developed a flaw.

It fails to address the fact that football is now inextricably linked with betting too, as is golf and cricket and tennis and snooker and every two-bit game you can mention from ping-pong to politics.

So if RTE is integrating with the bookies for its racing coverage, there is no logical argument against a similar partnership being forged in relation to its coverage of any other sport.

The alcohol industry is also now entitled to point out that it is deeply dishonest to be complaining about sponsorship of sports by Guinness or Heineken, when the bookies are in there "securing a powerful association across all of RTE's market-leading platforms".

Indeed, my personal view is that gambling is the king of all addictions, the most intractable, and I've seen a few.

But apparently this is not a view shared by the free spirits within the national broadcaster, where they once went over the top in the other direction by blocking access to internet betting sites in Montrose during Cheltenham.

Maybe one day they'll get it right.

Sunday Independent

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