Last month the Australian government released figures from a study that presented the most comprehensive picture of Australian gambling habits to date. Video and pokies machines were responsible for $9 billion in losses by Australian gamblers, half the total amount they lost for the past two years of their gambling.
The study, conducted by the Australian Gambling Research Centre, part of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, found that about 6.8 million Australians gamble regularly, about 42 percent of the country’s adult population.
Gambling critics pointed to these figures to show that Australians lost a record $18 billion on gambling 2016 and 2017 as further evidence the country needs to address what it sees as an epidemic. The losses increased 4.2 percent, roughly double the rate of inflation.
Gamblers parted with nearly $4 billion in casinos, $2.2 billion on horse racing and $1.4 billion on lotteries.
While losses from sportsbetting were much smaller than the other forms of wagering, checking in at $700 million, they did have the largest increase at 13 percent. Officials attribute this to the popularity of internet and app-based betting.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform said the amount Australians lost on the machines should alarm legislators and that they needed to take action to stem the rise and politicians should work on a goal of less than $20 billion annually.
According to news, whilst sports betting is top of mind with the advertising deluge the latest national figures once again confirm that the pokies are easily the biggest contributor to Australia’s tragic status as the world’s biggest gamblers.
The AGRC report that classified 6.8 million citizens as regular gamblers counted those who placed up to 10 bets a month on lotteries, video poker, racing, sports, keno, casinos, bingo, poker, private wagers. Of those 1.1 million were estimated to be at risk of problem gambling.
According to Dr. Andrew Armstrong, the lead researcher on this project, “An average regular gambler spent an estimated [$972] in a year, with card playing poker gamblers spending the most [$2,807] on poker and other gambling activities and buyers of instant scratch tickets the least [$475] on tickets and other activities.”
“Regular gamblers who favored the pokies reported spending [$987] on average on this activity, those who regularly gambled on races spent [$999], sports bettors [$789] and casino table gamblers [$1,046].”
Video poker machines the main culprits
Video poker machines are facing a barrage of criticism, not to mention a lawsuit claiming the design is intentionally meant to get players hooked. In September, a self-proclaimed gambling addict claimed that manufacturers of the popular machine Dolphin Treasure was purposely designed to appeal to compulsive gamblers.
Another controversy involved Crown Resorts founder James Packer. Three whistleblowers who previously worked at the billionaire’s Melbourne casino said people in the company tampered with the machines to give the house a bigger advantage.
Federal MP Andrew Wilkie said he was informed of the claims by former employees and urged Parliament to investigate though Packer has vehemently denied the allegations.
Pokies in pubs and clubs
In a discussion paper it points to figures that about 80% of the world’s poker machines are in dedicated gambling venues, such as casinos. Only 241,000 poker machines worldwide are in non-gaming venues, with the vast majority of those – 183,000 – in Australia’s pubs and clubs.
The report’s co-author Bill Browne said: “Australia’s large number of poker machines and our unusual decision to allow them in pubs and clubs make us a global anomaly.
“Australia has 0.3% of the world’s population but 6% of its conventional gaming machines and 18% of its poker machines.
“In terms of machines per person, Australia is right up there with casino-states like Monaco, Macau and Caribbean island nations.”
The report comes as Tasmania’s opposition Labor party announced a policy to remove poker machines from pubs and clubs in the state by 2023 if the party wins the next election in March.
Labor’s leader, Rebecca White, said the party would phase out more than 2,300 poker machines from venues to curb their “devastating effect on people and their families”. It would make Tasmania only the second state without pokies after Western Australia.
The promise was welcomed by community groups and anti-pokies campaigners but criticised by Premier Will Hodgman, who warned it would cost the state jobs. Labor would provide a $55m package to encourage venues and businesses to voluntarily retire the machines before 2023.
“Last financial year, Tasmanians lost $110m on poker machines in pubs and clubs, White said. “Economic modelling has shown that it could provide an additional 180 jobs in Tasmania if only half that money is spent in the community.”
The anti-pokies campaigner and independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie welcomed the policy. “We know that poker machines cause or at least add to many social ills including crime, domestic violence, suicide and childhood poverty,” he said in a statement.