MELBOURNE - Melbourne are expecting a backlash as the latest NRL club to link with a gambling establishment after confirming Crown casino as their new major sponsor.
In a massive coup for a club which last year was in disgrace after being stripped of all points and two premierships during the salary cap scandal, the Storm unveiled Crown as their front-of-jersey sponsor on Friday.
Melbourne chief executive Ron Gauci admitted there would be criticism of the club's link with gambling.
However he defended the arrangement and said Crown offered a home for Storm supporters, which the club hadn't had since it joined the competition in 1998.
All Storm after-match and mid-season functions for members will be held at Crown.
The Storm lost major sponsors Host Plus and ME Bank in the wake of last season's scandal.
Gauci said the new sponsorship delivered a message of confidence in the Storm ahead of the 2011 season.
The Storm joined South Sydney as the second NRL club to have a gambling establishment as their major sponsor, while Penrith have renamed their home ground Centrebet Stadium and Manly will also have the Centrebet logo on the back of their jumper.
Melbourne's announcement also comes in the same week as Ryan Tandy, who left the Storm midway through last season to join Canterbury, was arrested and charged as a result of an ongoing police investigation into irregular betting on a match between the Bulldogs and North Queensland last August.
Dennis Watt, rugby league general manager with News Limited, who own the Storm, defended the arrangement between a gambling establishment and a sport sold as a family game.
"It is very much reflective of the heart and soul of Melbourne and it's a great relationship for us to have and I don't see a conflict for the relationship the Storm have sought here."
He echoed the views recently expressed by NRL chief executive David Gallop that the association between sport and gambling "is as old as sport itself".
"Gambling's a part of the Australian way of life, part of our character and our history," he said.
"We advocate moderation, we know that problem gambling affects less than half a per cent of the population.
"You've got two million problem drinkers, four million smokers, over nine million Australians suffering levels of obesity which are also big social issues."