Confessions of a Hockey Fan: When Did Sports Become Conflated With Gambling?

I have a confession to make -- I love watching and following hockey.

I’ve watched most of the games played by the Vancouver Canucks, usually on TV, since I can’t really afford to see live games.  I suspect that I’m not alone.  My kids often join me in my hockey obsession. 

Have you watched a hockey game on TV lately?  If you have you will notice that during almost every commercial break there will be an ad promoting on-line gambling, visiting a local casino, or betting on different aspects of the game.  I’ve heard that BCLC is the largest purchaser of advertising in the province.  I suppose that’s where a significant part of the $1.5 billion in expenses related to Gaming goes.

Anyway, I was watching the game with my 11 year old son when he turned to me during one of the commercial breaks, when on-line gambling was being promoted, and said “Papa, how come you like hockey when you are against gambling?” 

That made me stop and think.  My extremely computer-literate son had asked me an important question.  It prompted more questions:  When did hockey become associated with gambling; how did this become normalized?  Why are the NHL awards held in Vegas?  Will my son’s screen addiction turn into a gambling addiction?  

To quote Michael Graydon, CEO of BC Lottery Corporation,” …gambling, in its many forms, has become a mainstream entertainment option over the past 10 years.”  

Could this be because of the aggressive promotion of gambling by our government-agency in the last 10 years, creating and recruiting new addicts?  What do the hockey moms think of this and how does this mesh with the Family Values agenda?

The same questions may be asked about soccer (which I also love and which my older son plays) and football.  When was it decided that sports and gambling were closely aligned?  How did the values of good health, teamwork, excellence, and competition become conflated with gambling?  We aren’t talking here about friendly bets on the outcomes of games, but about aggressive promotion of on-line and casino gambling.

Maybe the fact that Graydon's compensation is based in part on meeting a defined corporate target of persuading 61 percent of the BC public that gambling is an acceptable form of entertainment, is part of the answer?  This contrasts, by the way, with the BC Liquor Control Board, which sets targets based solely on operational and managerial effectiveness.

I, for one, would rather see ads promoting the opera, theatre, visual arts, and other cultural activities in our city during hockey commercial breaks.  Seems a better fit, and more appropriate for families. 

How about ensuring that 61 percent of the BC public is aware of the rich arts and cultural opportunities available in their communities instead?

Amir Ali Alibhai
Executive Director
Alliance for Arts and Culture 


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