One of the great mysteries was solved on our recent tour to Australia. We had looked forward to the trip ‘down under’ for a good 9 months having first been approached about the idea a couple of years ago. What an eye opener it proved to be! Australia certainly has a lot going for it with beautiful beaches, a fantastic climate and a multi-cultural population. However one thing in the Aussie psyche certainly stands out – their love of gambling and in particular a certain penchant for poker machines, referred locally as ‘the pokies’.
Whether you are in one of Australia’s major cosmopolitan cities or in more remote areas, its hard not to feel that you are amongst a nation of gamblers. In all major cities and tourist destinations grand casinos act as a focal point for tourists and locals alike. Gambling is big business in Australia, and some of Australia’s largest and publicly listed companies such as the Crown Group and Tabcorp Holdings not only dominate the local Australian gambling sector but are also now becoming major players in the international gambling sector.
However, what marks Australia our from the rest of the Western world is not so much it’s affinity to gambling in general, but more their fascination with pokies.
According to the Economist, Aussies on average loose a remarkable $1300 a year on mobile pokies alone, a figure that three times greater than the equivalent per capita loss in the UK.
Figures published by the Australian Governments problem gambling website (problemgambling.gov.au) certainly make interesting reading. In 2009 approximately 70% of Aussies participated in some form of gambling, spending close to $19 billion in the process. Yet it is the breakdown of this $19 billion that really shows Australian’s love for the pokies. Over $12 billion was spent playing the pokies. It’s hardly surprising to see why Australia has become the pokies capital of the world. With the growth in use of mobile technology it’s expected that there will be a significant uplift in players playing poker machines on mobile devices.
Poker machines are ingrained in Australian society, a process that has accelerated in the last 30 years following the gradual loosening of State legislation. Major social and sporting clubs in communities across Australia have become heavily reliant on the revenue generated by operating pokies on their premises. There is now one poker machine for every 108 people in Australia, a figure that puts Australia right up there with some of the world’s leading gambling hot spots.
Yet it’s not only the Aussie public that has grown accustomed to mobile pokies. Both State and Federal government have become every increasingly reliant on the taxes generated by the pokies. In 2007-8 over 9.1% of tax revenue generated by Australia’s State and Territories came from gambling related activities. The issue of problem gambling has been simmering away over the last decade, and in particular in the last couple of years, yet State governments are faced with the daunting and challenging task of being asked to address an issue that ultimately contributes significantly to the treasuries purse.
Yet it is the failure of the Australian government to adequately address the online gambling sector that has antagonized both the pro and anti-gambling brigades in equal measure. In 2010 The Australian Government’s Productivity Commission published a lengthy public report into online gambling in Australia, which many industry commentators believe has simply muddied the waters, particularly in relation to online pokies and other forms of online gambling, and should be managed and regulated. The inability to make difficult decisions and put in place a solid framework is disappointing given that the Productivity Commission (pc.gov.au) is an independent research and advisory body whose stated aim is assist governments in making better policies in the long-term interest of the Australian public.
The danger of not adequately addressing the issue of online gambling is that it leaves Australians in an unregulated and uncontrolled environment. A number of European countries have properly addressed the issue of online gambling, ensuring at the very least that all operators serving the residents of their country are licensed and properly regulated.
The failure of the Productivity Commission and the Australian government at large to address the issue means that Aussies are at the mercy of an unregulated and uncontrolled market. Research submitted to the Productivity Commission indicated that there were currently well over 2000 different online casinos available to Australian players. Whilst a number of these are run by well respected and publicly listed European operators (Ladbrokes, William Hill, Bwin.Party), there remain a number of other sites that could certainly be classified at the very least as unreliable if not completely untrustworthy. A regulated online gambling sector in Australia would protect residents ensuring that they were playing on a level playing field with reliable and reputable businesses.