Gambling: an addiction or a tradition?

Poker machines addiction

Australia was actually the first nation under which pokies were legalized. The rule was passed down in 1956 in New South Wales. In 1991, it became legal in Queensland and Victoria, South Australia in the following year, Tasmania in 1997 and the Northern Territory in 1998. In 2017, According to BBC news, “Australians spend on average about A$1,300 per capita a year on gambling. The next highest is around A$600 in Singapore.”

Where does this gambling addiction come from?

According to an Australian gambling researcher, it is due to history.

The rise in gambling commencing with the Wrest Point casino in Tasmania in 1973 and the subsequent expansion in the 1980s onward reflects a global increase in gambling liberalisation. This wave appeared to commence in 1964 with lotteries being introduced in North America. The Internet has now added a new dimension of easy access.” –  Professor Blaszczynski

However, money is also another factor. In 2014, Australia’s gambling industry generated $5.44 billion (AUD) in tax revenue, $3.18 billion of which came from pokies (Australasian Gaming Council.) According to Professor Harvey, the main reason for Australia’s high rate of gambling is not history:

“I think it’s about marketing … Hotels industry, casinos, sports betting, etc. and the revenue that governments derive from this form of taxation (especially poker machines). There is an anecdote that Australian governments are as addicted to the gambling revenue as the gamblers are to gambling.”

Films on gambling addiction

It should be said that gambling has become a national sport as well as part of the Australian culture and therefore, it is represented in many movies. In fact, gambling has played an important role in the Australian film industry.

There is this Australian drama film called Broke, directed by Heath David and released in 2016 that highlights the issue of gambling. According to, this movie has even received praise from Australian gambling addiction organizations, groups and counsellors for addressing gambling addictions and also for making it clear that there are solutions to deal with this issue. There is also Dirty Deeds (2002), written and directed by David Caesar, that follows the story of gangster Barry Ryan who controls the pokie machine industry in Sydney in the late 1960s. This Australian movie shows the strong request for pokie machines in Australia in the 1960s.

The movie Wake in Fright (1971), that follows the protagonist John Grant who is a schoolteacher in a town full of crazy, drunk and violent men, strongly highlights gambling addiction.

Gambling scene in the movie “Wake in Fright” (1971)
directed by Ted Kotcheff

There is this scene where we could see men gambling. Regarding their behaviors, we could see that the characters are very agitated. The director of the movie said in an interview Totally By Yourself In This Vast Emptiness: Ted Kotcheff on « Wake in Fright« , that all the people present in this scene were not actors, but people with whom he played in Sidney. “They had a tremendous amount of extroverted energy which I was able to channel into terrific performances », he said. This shows us how natural the scene was.

In Wake in Fright, there is this idea of compulsive behavior and also the idea of infernal spiral since many gamblers do not know when to stop. In fact, they try their best to recover the lost money and most of the time they get even more indebted. Moreover, this is the case of the main protagonist John Grant when he loses all his money while gambling, and wake up naked in his bed the next morning. The movie highlights emotional problems but more precisely emotional addictions followed by its harsh consequences, often financial but not only, that may lead to other addictions.

In view of the alarming results regarding Australia’s high rate of gambling, we can say that it is both a tradition and an addiction, since it is at the same time anchored in the Australian culture from the early colonial days and still affects thousands of Australians nowadays.

Do you want to watch Wake in Fright?


Works cited:

Devaney, Eric. « Why Do Australians Gamble So Much? », 2015.

Mercer, Phil. « Australia’s escalating addiction to gambling », BBC News, 2017.

Roberts, Jack. « Best Films Depicting Australia’s Obsession with Gambling », 2018

Stenson, « Ted. Totally By Yourself In This Vast Emptiness: Ted Kotcheff on « Wake in Fright » », 2016.

The Conversation. « 15 things you should know about Australia’s love affair with pokies », 2015.

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