A Nation of Losers? Australians are the World’s Biggest Gamblers

Australia is the number one country in gambling: it has per capita the most gamblers in the world. Gambling has become an institution and even a sport for the Australian people. According to the Australian government, “Australians spend nearly $12 billion a year on poker machines”.

Gambling scene in the movie Wake in Fright by Ted Kotcheff, 1971
Gambling scene in the movie Wake in Fright by Ted Kotcheff, 1971

Gambling as a part of the Australian culture

The BBC News website announced that “more than eighty percent of its adult population gambles”. They add that “Australians spend more money on gambling (17.52 dollars each week) than they do on alcohol (10.99 dollars) and petrol (15.27 dollars), and almost as much as they do on clothes (18.67 dollars).” It is so popular that it is also represented in many Australian films as a part of everyday life. For instance, the movie Wake in Fright by Ted Kotcheff, in 1971, is forewarning of this major issue in today’s Australia. The film recounts the story of a man led to horrific adventures because of the loss of all his money while gambling in the not so welcoming city of Bundanyabba. Although the film is fictional, the gambling issue is a reality for thousands of Australians. The movie Oscar and Lucinda, of 1997, tells the story of a gambling couple performed by Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes. Gambling has become a national sport, as well as a part of the culture.

Chart of the Gamblers - The Economist
Chart of the Gamblers – The Economist

Besides having the largest number of gamblers, Australia also possesses a great number of casinos and places where you can gamble. Their number is increasing and gambling even occurs in pubs and other public places. This blossoming of casinos can be explained by the taxes reaped by the government thanks to the money produced by the machines. They are a gold mine for the Australian government as the Sydney Morning Herald reported in an article called “Breaking the political addiction to the Pokies” in 2010: “In 2007-08 the states collected about $3 billion from poker machines, and $4.9 million from all forms of gambling […]. Taxes on poker machines made up 5.6 per cent of all revenue, and gambling taxes in general came to 9.1 per cent”. Gambling is not only a way to earn money, but also a manner to make the economy work. It is particularly true that the more casinos are built, the more jobs are created.

This idea is strengthened in Susan M. Moore and Keis Ohtsuka’s article, entitled Gambling Activities of young Australians: Developing a model behaviour, that “States receive a large amount of their revenue (up to
Chart of the Gamblers – The Economist14%) from gambling sources and they are widely advertised, so there exists more than tacit official approval for their existence”. The government is influenced by a pro-gambling lobby with economical arguments. Betting games enrich Australia: casinos are thus promoted in the country because they have a positive impact on the economy.This infrastructure establishes new relations with the people and favor tourism. In fact, Australia is trying to compete with Asian countries, like Singapore and Macau, by building more casinos and hotels in order to attract tourists. Furthermore, the Italian association called The Circle published the book Gambling on Culture: State lotteries as a source of funding for Culture – the Art and Heritage, in 2004 where they state that lotteries and other gambling games are part of a plan to boost the economy of countries. This idea demonstrates that the money gathered through these games, thanks to the taxes, is often destined to artistic and cultural projects so that it can make a city more attractive to international tourists.

Gambling seems to be essential in Australia, like an enjoyable sport that happens to help the economy at the same time. However, the dangers of this practice are more serious than appears on the surface.

A bet on political reforms

The Australian government has proposed several reforms to contain the gambling problem which has strongly developed in the country since the 1990’s. Indeed the act of gambling brings about addiction problems that can ruin lives. Not only is gambling bad for your wallet, but some of the studies revealed that it can also be physically unhealthy. Dr. Charles Livingston, professor at Monash University, studied the consequences of betting games, such as slot machines and animal racing. He concludes that it can have an influence on the rhythm of the heart, and he considers this addiction as serious as the one to tobacco.

Gambling is compared to the drinking addiction or to the gun lobby in the United States. Casinos, poker machines, betting shops, become powerful actors capable to influence the government, thanks to the taxes, and keep on growing in Australia.

In response to the problems caused by gambling addiction, several associations have been created to restrain gamblers. A group called the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce is committed to stop the problem and has explained that […] children suffer because of the impact of someone’s poker machine gambling…” Clubs Australia is also an association that aims to regulate the games and stop the addiction through “responsible gambling”. Such associations also attempt to support the politicians who try to reform gambling.

Julia Gillard, Australia Prime Minister from 2010 to 2013.
Julia Gillard, Australia Prime Minister from 2010 to 2013.

Several reforms have been initiated in response to the gambling problems. The former prime Minister, Julia Gillard announced in May 2013 that “there would be no live odds during sporting events” and expressed also her desire to restrict the gambling advertisement on television and radio to protect families from this addiction. The government also attempted to limit the expenditure of players by fixing at the beginning of the game the amount they will not want to exceed, so as not to be dragged into compulsive gambling. In 2014, the poker machines will warn the player if he is playing for too long and limit the spending to 250 dollars for ATM’s in the vicinity of the casinos. Nevertheless, these examples are fated because there is always a way to circumvent those rules by going to other casinos, or playing on a computer, etc.

Gary Banks, confirms that gambling reforms are not efficient, in his article Challenges for Australia in Regulatory Reform: “Apart from the questionable basis for their liberality, gambling regulations were found to be complex, fragmented and inconsistent. […]. They generally failed most of the tests for good regulation.” In fact, most of the reforms are doomed and just regulate the access to gambling. The Australian Parliament website lists the different reforms, such as the “legislation prohibiting Australian Internet gambling sites from providing services to Australians”, a “legislation to impose a 12-month moratorium on the introduction of new interactive gambling services”, and the Interactive Gambling Act which “prohibits the advertising of interactive gambling services”, amongst other reforms. These changes are easy to circumvent and do not affect considerably the gambling issue in Australia.

Australia has adopted gambling as a part of its culture, and casinos or clubs are now considered friendly meeting places. Gambling is a sport practiced by thousands of Australians which helps the economy, the culture and tourism. Nonetheless, gambling is still addictive, it destroys many families and it is hard to thwart by the government. However, if the gambler is meant to lose, so as to make a profit for the operator, maybe the country’s taxes and employment policies are real winners?

Work Cited


–          Serge Svizzero, L’Econonomie Australienne: performances, déséquilibres, réformes, Bibliothèque Universitaire et Francophone, Le Publieur, 2006.

–          Circle, Associazione per l’Economia della Cultura, Gambling on Culture, State lotteries as a source of funding for Culture – the Arts and Heritage, Boekmanstudies, Amsterdam, 2004.

–          Jan McMillen, Gambling Cultures: Studies in History and Interpretation, Routledge, 1996.

–          James E. Bennett and Rebecca Beirne, Making film and television Histories, Australia and New Zealand, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2012.

–          John Cohen, Hasard, Adresse et Chance: la psychologie du pari et du jeu, Bibliothèque Scientifique Internationale, Presses Universitaires de France, 1963.

Articles :

–          Susan M. Moore and Keis Ohtsuka, Gambling activities of young Australians: Developing a model of behaviour,Victoria University, Australia, 1997.

–          Julie Smith, Gambling Taxation in Australia, the Australia Institute, March 1998.

–          Gary Banks, Challenges for Australia in Regulatory Reform, International Conference on Regulation Reform, 2001.

–          Nerilee Hing, The emergence of problem gambling as a corporate social issue in Australia, Southern Cross University, 2002.

Internet :

The Sydney Morning Herald:

–           http://www.smh.com.au/national/its-a-sure-thing-australians-are-far-ahead-in-the-gambling-world-20110520-1ewls.html

–          http://www.smh.com.au/national/breaking-the-political-addiction-to-pokies-20100226-p95c.html
The Global Mail:

–          http://www.theglobalmail.org/feature/australias-next-big-gambling-break/729

–          http://www.theglobalmail.org/feature/its-not-about-the-money-a-gamblers-hard-won-wisdom/735
Le Nouvel Observateur:

–          http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/societe/20130301.AFP5197/l-australie-veut-limiter-les-mises-des-parieurs-avec-une-loi-tres-critiquee.html
The Economist:

–          http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/05/gambling

E Turbo News:

–          http://www.eturbonews.com/27059/australian-gambling-resorts-bet-heavily-tourism

BBC News:

–           http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6313083.stm
Monash University:

–          http://monash.edu/news/show/responsible-gambling-and-the-spectacle-of-the-problem-gambler
Pro Bono Australia News:

–          http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2011/03/churches-launch-national-gambling-taskforce

Clubs Australia

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