How long until gambling ads go the way of big tobacco?

There's only one winner here. Photo: Getty
There's only one winner here. Photo: Getty

WHEN I was about five or six, I had to have a few days off school.

I can’t recall if it was the flu or chickenpox, but I do remember watching a pirated VHS copy of Superman II so often the tracking started to play up.

And I vividly remember the scene where Christopher Reeve and Terence Stamp battered hell out of each other in front of a beautiful, shiny red and white Marlboro-branded truck.

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Tobacco can be deadly.

Fast forward 10 years and I’m nervously walking to the counter at my local newsagent, asking if it would be ok to buy some cigarettes for my mum (she smoked Longbeach, super mild).

The shop assistant gave me a tentative yes, and I asked her for a pack of Marlboro.

Philip Morris paid the producers $40,000 for that product placement in the first two Superman films, and to have Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane smoke like Yul Brynner (the character had never smoked before).

The practice became the subject of a US congressional inquiry to determine why this could be allowed in a film for kids.

Was it linked to my choice in later life? Was that truck burned so deeply in my brain? I think it was.

If you ever look at old Formula One photos, it’s like the land that time forgot.

Marlboro, Rothmans, Mild Seven, John Player Special – F1 was once a high-speed tobacco lobby, sowing the seeds of a million emphysema cases.

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Ayrton Senna in the John Player Special. Photo: Getty

But tobacco advertising was banned in Australia in 1992, and F1 outlawed it in 2001.

When you look back at those times, it’s almost with a quaint sense of ‘look what they could get away with back then’.

I suspect one day we’ll look back on pictures of today’s sporting arenas, awash with gambling brands, and feel much the same way.

Watching West Coast’s season opener at the ‘Gabba on Saturday night, I was suddenly blinded by an ad for a punt school on the in-stadium advertising boards.

Even the company’s name is abhorrent – no one, under any circumstances, should bet 365 days a year.

These days kids at the cricket won’t be bombarded with Benson and Hedges billboards, it’s Sportsbet, Ladbrokes and the rest.

But the cancer these brands cause – the social kind – is just as damaging.

According to an ABC report, one of the leading digital bookmakers paid about $490.5 million in marketing and promotion in the five years to June 2018.

These companies even employ ‘retention officers’, people who will go through lists of dormant accounts, calling people to offer incentive bets.

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There’s only one winner here. Photo: Getty

A generation of Australian kids is growing up knowing what odds are – because every time there’s a break in the footy, Nathan Brown will tell them what’s up.

Having a dig at gambling in Australia is always fraught.

A 1990 report by the Australian Institute of Criminology titled Gambling in Australia began thus: “Unlike most Western nations, Australian governments have actively encouraged a wide diversity in the types of legal gambling.”

Gold star for ‘Straya.

But surely people have had enough, or do we want our kids growing up exposed to this nonsense?

The constant odds, the multis, the blokey Facebook videos — all washing the brains of tomorrow’s problem gamblers.

Like smoking, betting, taking to the nth degree, wreaks havoc — emotionally and financially.

There’s a reason we no longer see ads for tobacco anymore. How long will it take before gambling goes the same way?

Problem Gambling Helpline: 1800 858 858

greig.johnston@communitynews.com.au