Odds men out: how people power can muzzle the scourge of TV gambling in all its guises

Let us pause to remember Tom Waterhouse is merely the ugly pustule crowning the pimple of television sports betting.

If his white head burst on our television sets tomorrow, we'd still be left with the infection that pushed him to the surface - Betfair's 2008 High Court decision allowing bookmakers to parade their trade absolutely everywhere.

Amid the rancour and outrage directed at Waterhouse (of which I have been a part), it's easy to lose sight of the fact he's only one of a number of online betting agencies facilitating a cultural shift in our attitude to gambling.

I was concerned this column might repeat sentiments already expressed here about TV sports betting until I watched the football last weekend and saw Waterhouse and his competitors' ads repeating themselves - over and over again.

This is how culture forms and while it's easy to feel powerless under its onslaught, we actually have a choice as to whether we accept the changes happening in Australian society.

The run-up to this year's federal election is the time we can make our voices heard - by contacting local MPs and demanding legislation to prevent Waterhouse, Betfair, Sportingbet, Centrebet or any other company further shoving the septic shard of TV sports gambling into the face of an evening with your family.

If you doubt the ability of your opinion to influence lawmakers and the power of legislation to shape cultural attitudes, look no further than how far we've come in our efforts to combat drink-driving.

Random breath testing has been with us for a little over a generation and in that time driving drunk has been transformed from a widely accepted thumbing-of-the-nose at authority to something most of us just don't do any more.

Sure people still do it, but it's now a retrograde minority who'd not call a cab for a drunken friend fumbling with their car keys. We've changed.

Remember, too, it was not so long ago the hotel and alcohol industries told us random breath testing would be the death of pubs and clubs. They were wrong, just like TV networks and sporting codes suggesting they can't survive without revenues from gambling sponsorship.

Similar nonsense was trotted out when the bans on cigarettes spread their beautiful wings - first over sporting sponsorship, then the whole country, so that we now sit indoors puzzled that we were ever made to endure rooms opaque with smoke and football trophies named after durries.

It seems like every other week we shake our heads in bewilderment at the US, that their citizens cannot see the link between their guns laws and the number of mass shootings in their country.

Why? Because our own experience after Port Arthur has shown thoughtful legislation can work. Laws compel, then culture exhorts.

When it comes to gambling, the rest of the world views us like we do the US and their gun in every pocket and handbag. Australians lose more money to gambling, per adult resident, than any country in the world.

In that context, Tom Waterhouse is merely a blemish, but he's one easily removed.

This article Odds men out: how people power can muzzle the scourge of TV gambling in all its guises was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.