How much of a problem is gambling in sport?

I wrote recently that gambling was the single biggest issue confronting sport, in terms of its ability to manipulate results and undermine confidence in games.

This was in the context of the on-going mess ASADA is making of its investigations and the patently ludicrous idea that the supplements programs (whatever that turns out to be) represented the darkest days in Australian sport.

To that end, the penalty handed to Manly’s David Williams — he was banned for the rest of the season for placing bets on NRL games — was appropriate because his bets included some on himself and his team. Also true is that players know they aren’t allowed to bet. Period.

Long term, however, is that the best approach?

Respected racing steward, Ray Murrihy, says the league must send a clear and strong message with penalties that act as a suitable deterrent. Even if the bets were as little as $5. The NRL obviously agrees.

I don’t.

Players, like jockeys, should not bet.

Players, like jockeys, do.

It is impossible to stop but what is important is the intent.

There is a huge difference between someone having a few dollars on a result in a game in which they aren’t taking part and a player betting for or against his own team.

The former has no impact on a result, the latter does.

We should not be banned from entering banks — only robbing them. This is where the growing relationship between sport and gambling becomes complex.

On the one hand sports are saying that gambling is just a pleasant pastime (which for most of us it is); on the other it’s so dangerous players can’t have a bit of fun with it. Which is it?

Insider traders on the stock exchange aren’t banned from buying ALL shares — only those about which they have special knowledge unavailable to the rest of the public.

This is how it should be with rugby league and other sports.

Prohibition has never worked and the NRL would be well advised to look at those who are actually corrupting and undermining the game.

Instead of players swearing off alcohol, for instance, might it be wiser to handle it responsibly?

It is the abuse of gambling that needs to be addressed — not gambling itself. As it is the abuse of anything.

Gambling, in and of itself, is neither bad nor hazardous and sport risks running down the wrong track if it seeks to make gambling the problem rather than its irresponsible or reckless use.

Human beings have been gambling for thousands of years. Make that tens of thousands — ever since the cavemen drew lots to see who was going out to find dinner. The evolutionary cycle soon sorted winners from losers… so here we are, the end result of a million chance wagers. We should be thankful that our ancestors fancied a bet. And won.

Former first grader, Owen Craigie, now counsels problem gamblers, having suffered enormously because of his own addiction. He argues that everyone who ends up an addict started by placing small bets. That’s true — as it is that alcoholics started with the first sip and dangerous drivers by getting their license. We’d all no doubt be better off had we never taken our first step.

His logic is flawed.

The vast majority of people drive safely, drink responsibly and bet within their limits. Some don’t — just as there are those who abuse anything.

It is the illegal or irresponsible application that is problematic for the codes and individuals. But if I’m wrong and gambling is such a bad thing then sport has no business raking in all it can from betting agencies and giving over so much media time to it.

A final note. It was decided that athletes at the Commonwealth Games would be allowed to drink in the village. Having been cautioned about possible consequence and being fully aware about what can go wrong (think London) they were trusted to make wise and mature decisions.

My money says the vast majority did just that. A good bet.