Sports Gambling and its regulation: the greater good or should the cash be spent elsewhere?

Today, Australia’s Prime Minister, announced a program of reform that purports to ban the advertisement of live odds during sporting telecasts. For those who have not followed the news on this the key aspects of the proposal announced today are:

* A new code will be developed collectively by the government, TV, radio and internet broadcasters that will outline the terms of the “ban” and how, if at all, gambling will be advertised during sporting telecasts.

* As noted in the preamble, the advertisement of live odds will be banned as part of the code proposed.

* Gambling will still be allowed to advertised under the code but will be restricted to breaks in play only.

* Bookmakers will not be allowed to be a part of the telecast of sporting events.

* If the TV, radio and internet broadcasters do not agree to this voluntarily the Prime Minister will seek to fast track legislation bring in the code before the election in September.

To quote Ms Gillard (as reported in the Daily Telegraph):

“Families are sick of gambling getting in the way of the game, that’s why we are acting to get live odds off our screens during all sports broadcasts. Enough is enough. Now we are acting to ensure our kids are talking about who is the best team, not who is the best bet.”

I have two very conflicting views about the introduction of the code / legislation introduced today. Funnily enough though a consideration of both of these views lead me to the same place: that the ban proposed is a monumental waste of money that could be used better for the education of those most at risk to gambling and the addiction that surrounds it.

Let me be upfront here: I have two internet betting accounts albeit both never have a balance of more than $50. I am not a customer of all internet gambling sites but I do read material that is posted on said sites from time to time. I have never placed a “live bet” because nothing frustrates me more than having to make a phone call whilst I am watching sport.

Let me also be clear: I am in no way seeking to diminish the seriousness of gambling addiction or its effects. As a sufferer of addictions, albeit not gambling, I have nothing but the utmost sympathy from those who struggle every minute of every day with the urge to gamble and those who are impacted adversely by gambling in all of its forms.

That said, why do I believe that what was announced today is a waste of money better spent on education? As I note above my reasons are two fold and, of themselves, diametrically opposed:

1. Part of my objection to that which has been proposed today is the intrusion it creates into the individual’s right to choose whether they view advertisements about internet gambling and then act on them. The impingement of that personal right and, by extension, the impingement on the business of the gambling houses is virtually guaranteed in my view to lead to litigation and, if the efforts of the tobacco lobby and companies is anything to go by, the new code or legislation to implement it will be mired in litigation for years to come. Such litigation could range from a constitutional challenge to the validity of any legislation introduced through to, arguably, a tortious claim under the little used tort of interference with contract (the government is, arguably, interfering with the contracts each of the betting houses has with a TV network for example by introducing this code and the betting house could suffer damage as a result). Where does that leave us? With a code or piece of legislation that is the subject of possible repeal and lawyers earning millions of dollars to either keep the legislation in place or to set it aside. That is not to mention the very real prospect of a repeal or change in policy that is likely to arise when the Abbott government comes in.

2. The other part of my objection is directly the opposite to an argument relating to personal freedom and ability to choose. It is simply that if the government is hell bent on the regulation of the advertisement of internet gambling during sporting contests why is it not going further? Does not allowing advertisement of gambling services before, during the breaks of and after games mitigate against the gains made by banning the live odds component of such gambling. Again, if the government wishes spend all of this money on a code / legislative instrument shouldn’t it go further to reduce the risk of children learning about gambling from television ads? The risk of litigation is still there of course but if the government is going to fight about something ought it not be fighting about a comprehensive ban based on its child protection imperative rather than a ban on one particular type of advertising that is not going to stop, at all, the prospect of children seeing ads about gambling rather it just changes the ads?

I know the weight of public opinion is against me here and it would appear that the government has listened to the “tribe” in the introduction of this proposed code / legislation. However, has the government really listened to those it is listening to? How many of those listened to object to the ad on the basis that they are irritating (there must be some … reread Gillard’s first sentence set out above if you need convincing)? Conversely, how many of those listened to object to the ads because of real and empirical evidence of the corruption of children of which Ms Gillard speaks (in the last sentence of the statement reproduced above)?

The argument that the ban is for the greater good does not wash with me: a ban for the greater good would be a ban of the type I note in the second part of my objection to the current proposal; viz, a complete ban of the style introduced relating to cigarette advertising. That is absolutely NOT what the government has proposed.

I give credit to the government for trying to tackle this issue head on but can not agree that this is the best way to go. The money that is going to be spent on this code / legislation could be used to fund a nation wide education program directed at both parents and children about gambling. Such a program could be in schools, could involve ads at the same time as those still being allowed under the code in any event and avoids the litigation risk of a ban on advertising.

One final point: the next time you are in the presence of a smoker aged in the 30 and older bracket ask this question … do you smoke because you saw an ad for Benson and Hedges cigarettes while watching the cricket with your Dad OR do you smoke because you Dad smoked while watching the cricket with you? I know that is a simplistic example but education starts at home so the other thing that obviously needs to occur is the taking of responsibility by parents for their own conduct whilst watching sporting telecasts with their children. It sounds simplistic but surely some responsibility rests with the holder of the remote control to turn of an offending telecast if they do not like the advertising on it! And, further, to not make a phone call to a gambling house whilst sitting on their lounge with their children watching Friday night football!

There are no perfect solutions to the problem of gambling addiction and, in particular, sports gambling. Again, I give credit where it is due for the attempt by the government but maintain that:

1. If the code / legislation is designed to stop children from watching ads about gambling during sport then it fails dismally because it does not ban all such ads.

2. The funds to be spent on the implementation and defence of this “partial” ban would clearly be better spent on the education of those most at risk.

Playing to Win: A life strategy

I have been reading Playing to win: How strategy really works by A G Lafley and Roger L Martin recently as part of some business planning for FY14 that I have been doing at work. I have found the central methodology really resonating with me and, whilst the book is specifically focused on strategy in business, I think the central themes in the book are equally as applicable to life as they are in the business world.

For the initiated, A G Lafley is a former CEO of Proctor & Gamble whose strategic house was such that under his watch Proctor & Gamble doubled its sales and quadrupled its profits. Roger Martin was Lafley’s strategic adviser in the Proctor & Gamble days and is now the dean of Rotman School of Business in Toronto.

Lafley and Martin’s process of developing and implementing a successful strategy hinges on what they describe as the Five Choices. These choices are integrated and as the authors explain in the book:

These choices and the relationship between them can be understood as a reinforcing cascade, with the choices at the top of the cascade setting the context for the choices below, and the choices at the bottom influencing and refining the choices above.

The five choices are:

1. What is our winning aspiration? This choice, in effect, refers to the purpose of the enterprise for which the strategy is being created.

2. Where will we play? This choice identifies specifically where the product or company will compete.

3. How will we win? This question must be answered with a clear value proposition and a path to competitive advantage.

4. What capabilities must be in place? The question here is to define the activities and competencies that support the where-to-play and how-to-win choices.

5. What management systems are required? The question here is which systems, structures and measures need to be put in place to support the choices made in the previous four questions.

As I noted above I consider this to be an excellent tool for consider strategic imperatives in business. However, I also think that these questions, with some obvious amendments to the nomenclature, create a structure worth following when one considers strategies in life.

When you think about it, with everything that we do in life having a strategy or a plan of action makes the completion of a life task all the more easy. The five choices can be used to give a framework for the reaching of life goals just as much they can for the determining of business strategy.

I challenge you to try the five choices process the next time you are setting yourself a personal goal and let me know if it works. I seems to be working for me.

Vale Hazel Hawke (20 July 1929 – 23 May 2013)

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Hazel Hawke two days ago. I was even more saddened when two of my staff revealed that they did not know who she was. I was going to write in memoriam of her already but the knowledge that some of our young people do not know who she was has spurred me on further. I will write further with respect to my extreme bother at the standard of Australian History teaching our schools.

It would be trite and unfair to say that Hazel Hawke was the wife of a prime minister of Australia and that is all she will be remembered for. Simply put: she was so much more than that. One only needs to have read her autobiography “My Own Life: An Autobiography” to know that. If you have not read her autobiography then read the citation that came with her appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia. It is:

“For service to the community, particularly through the promotion of the reconciliation process, support for continued improvement in the quality of children’s television, as a contributor to the preservation of heritage items, and involvement with environmental and wildlife preservation groups”.

If you still need convincing that this formidable woman and great Australian was more than just the wife of a prime minister then track down the Australian Story episode which first aired on 3 November 2003. That was the episode in which Hazel Hawke publicly revealed that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Watch that episode and then tell me you are not in awe of the courage this woman showed and I will call you a liar. I am not ashamed at all to admit that I wept.

Since that time the Hazel Hawke Dementia and Care Fund has been in place to support Alzheimer’s sufferers.

I have had moment to revisit Ms Hawke’s autobiography this week: if that only told half the story it would be a wonderful and inspiring story. To that point one would have memorialised her as: wife, mother, first lady, reformer, amateur pianist and patron of the arts and environment. Add to that: advocate of change in the care of those with Alzheimer’s disease and inspiration and that makes this life of this amazing woman one worth remembering.

Vale Hazel: I hope you are at peace now and I hope your family can now rest easier that you are in a better place.

The Warner Controversy: where to from here?

Cricket news in this part of the world, thankfully given England’s dismantling of the Black Caps at Lords, has been all about David Warner and his spat in social media with two of Australia’s most respected cricket journalists: Malcolm Conn and Robert Craddock. I do not intend to revisit what was said: if you are a cricket fan you have read the exchange. If you are a Warner apologist you have already congratulated him on “sticking it up the journos” (aside: my favourite reply was “what would they know, they have never walked in your shoes” … are you kidding: the bloke gets paid to play cricket something the mere mortals among us would do for free). If you are on the side of the journalists you are bemoaning Warner’s conduct and declaring his captaincy prospects dead and buried. Most have taken a side and the less said about that the better.

What is important now that #warnergate has happened is to consider what the next steps are and how cricket in this country gets back to focusing on the upcoming Ashes and the return of the Ashes urn to its rightful place of residence in Australia.

Tomorrow is an important start to that process as Warner faces a charge against Rule 6 of CAs Code of Behaviour. For the uninitiated, Rule 6 provides:

Players and officials must not at any time engage in behaviour unbecoming to a representative player or official that could (a) bring them or the game of cricket into disrepute or (b) be harmful to the interests of cricket…this rule applies at all times where the unbecoming behaviour involves the player being involved in public comment or comment to or in the media.

There are various punishments available to the CA Senior Code of Behaviour Commissioner, The Hon. Justice Gordon Lewis AM, who will hear the case from a fine through to a reprimand and ultimately a suspension.

It seems difficult to argue that the conduct of Warner, no matter what side of the fence I have alluded to above one sits, is not in breach of Rule 6. As a minimum, Warner’s conduct must have been conduct banned by Rule 6(b) inasmuch as it can not be in the interests of cricket for a current player to abuse two of the most senior journalists in the game for the having the temerity to have an opinion. The question therefore becomes one of penalty and what Warner can put to the Commissioner as a plea in mitigation.

Herein, I think, lies a major problem for Warner. He has, despite his relative lack of time in the top flight of the game (19 test matches), been involved in a series of unseemly on field incidents of what could be best be described as sledging but really, even from a one eyed Australian fan, was tantamount to abuse. The most obvious of such incidents have occurred against India in both of the most recent home and away series. Even in a losing, Warner’s approach to relations with players from opponent teams seems to be “abuse first and ask questions later”.

I know regular readers of this blog will say that I have prejudged Warner here and that my general lack of, for want of a better term, endearment for the play of Warner is colouring my judgment here. Frankly, it may well be the case that I am harder on Warner than I would be on a player that I actually enjoyed watching play the game. I know this is incongruous given the alleged entertainment value that Warner brings to the game BUT the fact is that the conduct of Warner on the field is a major part of why I do not like watching him play.

Now is an opportunity for Cricket Australia to give guidance to a young player who is arguably at a career crossroad: having gone from being considered to be a captain in waiting no less than 3 months all of a sudden that carrot seems to be gone. That fact added to a start of a career where the numbers (1263 runs in 19 tests at an average of less than 40 AND 1124 runs in 38 ODIs at an average of 30) do not match hype means that Cricket Australia must tread carefully. Equally, Warner’s conduct can not go unpunished: indeed the conduct of recent times, including the sledging noted above, is a major part of the make up of Warner, or his ego, that needs to be worked out of his game and needs to be worked out his game right now.

Whatever the penalty, and given the penalties recently handed out for failing to answer a questionnaire that penalty must involve a suspension, now has to be the time that someone like a Rod Marsh or Andy Bichel, both selectors and massively respected in the game, tell Warner to shut up and let his bat do the talking.

I, for one, will be watching the outcome of the hearing tomorrow with interest and, more particularly, be closely examining Warner’s response to see if once again his ego is his guide or he has taken a moment of pause and learned the error of his ways, at least in the short term.

The Wallabies Squad: No Cooper … but that is not the biggest story!

On Sunday the Wallabies squad to meet the touring British and Irish Lions was announced. A squad of 25 with the prospect of a further 6 players being added after the end of the next two rounds of Super 15 action and after the Queensland Reds v Lions fixture on the eve of the test. Much comment in papers (kudos to the Courier Mail for immediately linking him to the Broncos) has been about Quade Cooper missing out and whilst I can not for a second believe he is not in the top 25 players in the country, having heard what Robbie Deans said on Triple M Brisbane, I concede there is a point to his non-selection. That’s right folks: I have found something Robbie Deans has done to agree with and that is that Q Cooper needs to take contact more and minimise his turnovers. It is not rocket science: I have been saying this on Twitter for months and having watched every second Cooper has played this season I am happy to consider myself in a position to comment.

That said, as the title of this post would suggest, I do not believe that Quade Cooper missing out on the squad is the biggest story coming out of its naming. The story that should have the focus of rugby journalists and fans alike is the selection of Israel Folau in favour of Jesse Mogg.

Before people jump all over me and suggest that my views here are just sour grapes because of my well publicized disdain for Folau’s turncoatary, I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree. Again, I am in the fortunate position to have watched close to 90% of the game time that each of Folau and Mogg have played this season and it based on what I have seen that brings me to the view that I have reached: that the selection of Folau in favour of Mogg is just a travesty.

Let’s be honest here: Folau is a supremely talented athlete, of that fact there can be no denial. To have played with different measures of success all three of the oval ball codes in this country at the highest level is no mean feat. Indeed, save for Brad Thorne, I would be happy enough to suggest that there is probably no better oval ball athlete on the planet (lets wait until he has Thorne’s record before we crown a new king in that regard). The potential in him to be a brilliant rugby player and a mainstay of the Wallabies for years to come is certainly there: if he stays in the game. Therein lies part of the rub here: four seasons of rugby league (two with Melbourne and two with Brisbane), two seasons of AFL (including one in the lower grades) and now 10 games in Super Rugby are indicative of a mercenary looking for the next dollar rather than a committment to a code.

It would be easy here to simply say that Jesse Mogg is a different story, and less of a mercenary, given his history of playing rugby union at school and his selection in the Australia A Schools rugby union side. It would be wrong though to say that because he is a one code man he should get the first nod for this squad. The fact is that his path to the Brumbies was via rugby league and a contract with the Broncos for whom he played in the Toyota Cup.

It would also be easier here to say that Folau should not be selected having only played ten games of Super Rugby in advance of his selection but that would not really be true either given that Mogg is only one season advanced than him when it comes to Super Rugby time in the roll.

If it is not an experience problem and it is not because I think Folau is a mercenary then why then am I so adamant that Mogg ought to have been selected in this Wallabies squad in Folau’s place? It is simple really: I think at this point that Mogg is the better of the two players and at fullback gives more to a Wallabies outfit that looks likely to be short on attacking flair given the centres Robbie Deans has selected. If, as I expect, Folau is named as fullback for the first test then I think one can expect the backline to read something like this: Genia, O’Connor, Horne, Ashley-Cooper, Ioane, Cummins and Folau. If that is the backline selected then there is a glaring deficiency in the back three: the ability to kick for distance and for field position. Bizarrely for a former AFL player, Folau is not much of a kicker of the rugby ball and I don’t believe I have ever seen Ioane kick in general play. Such kicking is going to be vital in a team that will be have a “bash and barge” mentality in attack (again based on the list selected).

There can be no doubt that Folau is creative in attack but again I would countenance that would the position that so is Jesse Mogg. Indeed, anyone who can run 100m in less than 11 seconds as Mogg is alleged to have done in the off season and also throw a long pass like Mogg can must be considered to be an attacking weapon. I would question who is the better defender of the two as well: on the evidence I have seen I certainly would say that I would prefer to have Mogg as my last line of defence than Folau.

This is a test series against the Lions: it is going to be tough and it is going to be won by the best defensive team. Picking a player that is an attacking dynamo but is: learning the game, does not kick in general play and has defensive question marks strikes me as the wrong move when there is a player with equal attacking flair that will be sitting on the sidelines who is an exception kicker in general play and has the edge in defence.

Of course, it must be disclosed that there is a very real prospect that Folau will not play and is in the team for “experience around the group” (a favourite line of Cricket Australia selectors) which means that the O’Connor / Barnes combination at 10/15 beckons. Again, I would think that Jesse Mogg is a better answer at 15 than that combination but he is not in the squad.

My original premise, and the source of my original virulent anger at the exclusion of Mogg for Folau, for this blog was that it simply sends the wrong message to pick Folau after he has left two other codes, has not yet committed to this code and has only played a handful of games. Those are all reasons that could be used to suggest that Mogg ought to have been selected. However that misses the point and the real premise of this post: right now, in my opinion, Jesse Mogg is simply a better player than Israel Folau and that that ought be obvious to anyone who has watched as much of the Super Rugby season as I have.

Whilst Robbie Deans continues to not pick players in form or his “favourite” players (I am looking at you Messrs Timani and Dennis) or players with very limited playing time in Super Rugby this season (Barnes is at the top of that list) there is going to continue to be much angst from fans and pundits of the game. That is the right of a fan of the game. When you pierce through the anger though there also must be concerns around how we are going to win this series with the player group named. For me those concerns would be sated in a smallish way by the selection of Mogg for Folau.

On that note: back to the main story it seems … will Quade Cooper be in a Broncos jersey this season? Or will he be boxing?