Melksham affair underlines AFL's fraught relationship with gambling

Jake Melksham's failure to fully disclose details of his betting accounts and subsequent punishment from head office have exposed yet again the fraught relationship between the AFL and gambling that continues to cast a shadow over the game's integrity.

It has emerged that both Melksham and his friend and former Essendon teammate Stewart Crameri were interrogated by AFL investigators last October following a series of bets on greyhounds that dated to June 2016 ??? one of which had been part of a wider successful plunge that had caught the eye of a betting agency.

Melksham had acted as a "new bowler" - or commission agent - for the prolific greyhound punter Lachlan Vine. It is a common practice, not illegal, in which big gamblers, who, because they are too successful, have been "banned" by certain betting agencies or bookmakers, use another punter's account to place their bets and then pay the account-holder a commission on their winnings.

Crameri, now at the Western Bulldogs, is one of Vine's closest friends and is understood to have introduced Vine to Melksham. While there is no suggestion that any of the three acted outside the law, the bets were reported to the AFL's integrity unit and both players were summoned for questioning.

Crameri was upfront with the investigators and cleared but Melksham initially failed to admit to the full details of his betting accounts.

This led to his financial punishment and public embarrassment this week.

Having been banned for the 2016 season for his role in the Essendon supplements program, Melksham has subsequently told others he panicked, having undergone an alarming sense of deja vu in the interview room reminiscent of his sessions with AFL and ASADA officials.

The AFL's handling of the investigation has left both the AFL Players Association and Melksham's manager Paul Connors unimpressed.

Melbourne's football boss Josh Mahoney was kept informed of the investigation, but neither the AFLPA nor Connors were made aware of the issue until very recently. Melksham was under the impression he could not reveal any details to either party although the AFL has subsequently claimed he was mistaken.

The view of both the players' union and the manager is that they should have been officially informed by the AFL and could have better advised Melksham who has endured a form slump over the past fortnight as he awaited punishment. That very issue is part of the AFLPA's list of claims in the collective bargaining agreement negotiations.

Players' association executive Brett Murphy said on Friday that his union was determined that the mandatory disclosure when players faced any form of disciplinary hearing be written into the next CBA. "It should be a matter of course if a player is being investigated by the AFL or involved in any serious disciplinary issue that both the player's agent and the AFLPA be made aware of that investigation," he said.

Melksham's reported fine of $10,000 will, in fact, be taken out of his wages and, in reality, amount to around $6000 after tax.

But his story is part of a much wider concern regarding the betting habits and gambling culture still endemic among footballers - so many of whom are losing thousands of dollars betting online on American sports. So many players with extra downtime and large disposable incomes remain an easy target for the inducements offered by bookmakers.

Which leads to large gambling debts, inappropriate relationships and the threat of match fixing and other forms of corruption. Head office, which has historically had its own internal and top-level "punters' clubs", is funding educational programs at some clubs but is still grappling with its own responsible gambling policy.

This while it refuses to truly commit to even restricting the game's reliance on poker-machine revenue - one of the heartbreaking scourges of Australian society - and is engaged in a battle with the federal government to preserve multimillion-dollar sponsorships and flexible TV advertising before and during games.

The so-called threat to grassroots football voiced by the AFL due to the loss of that revenue is a disappointing red herring that was greeted publicly this week with the cynicism it deserved. Particularly when detailed academic research has shown that 75 per cent of children surveyed now believe that gambling is a normal or common part of sport.

Some club bosses are looking at more radical solutions to combat the threat of gambling addiction and potential corruption while commissioner Kim Williams has led the push for a more stringent approach from the competition.

But you can't help but note a level of hypocrisy as the AFL continues to fight to preserve the legal loophole that allows saturation gambling advertising before and during live games televised in general viewing times before 8.30pm.

If footballers and their accompanying free time and expendable bank balances are looking for a role-model at AFL headquarters they should probably look elsewhere.

This story Melksham affair underlines AFL's fraught relationship with gambling first appeared on Brisbane Times.