Guest Post: Gambling in Australia

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Australians are incessant, almost pathological gamblers.

If two kookaburras land on a tree miles in the outback, it’s a fair bet that within minutes a bookie is making odds as to which one will fly away first.

Latest figures available show $69 a year is bet for every man, woman and child in Australia.

“Most forms of are legal in Australia, and the activity is highly popular. The average adult Aussie will lose about $1,000 (US $679) on gambling each year. This means that Australians lose more money per adult at gambling than any other group on the planet. This number has increased 2½ times over the last 25 years. In fact, more money is spent on gambling than on sporting, cultural or entertainment events.” -world gambling review website.

Australia, with 360, has more racecourses than any other country in the world. Poker machines make up 56% of the gambling industry here. In Brisbane you can go to a race meeting every day of the week if you want. Within two hours drive there are courses at Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, Ipswich, Beaudesert, Gold Coast plus two in the city, Eagle Farm and Doomben, the two just across the road from each other.

Gambling addiction is a huge problem, a 2010 report by one hospital showed 17% of attempted suicides were problem gamblers.

Recently the Gillard Government, cheered on by Independent Andrew Wilkie, threatened to introduce “mandatory pre commitment” for pokie gamblers. This would require EVERY gambler to set a limit before he, or she, said down to mindlessly pull a handle or push a button.

This was well intentioned nonsense. Firstly, it treated all gamblers as if they were addicts, and secondly, a gambler could set any limit at all, from $1 to a gazillion. The Lib/Nat coalition’s response was even worse: they proposed voluntary pre commitment. What’s next, asking every smoker to sign a piece of paper saying they wouldn’t take more than two puffs a day, but nothing would happen to them if they didn’t keep their promise?

The chartered clubs, a huge industry here, went ballistic. They rely on pokie revenue to such an extent that one club near where I live offers lifetime membership for $1. No, not $1 a year, a buck for the rest of your life!

But the clubs did a very clever thing. Rather than taking up the example of the billionaires of the mining industry and entering a full on war which made the newspapers lots of money in advertising, the clubs kept their powder dry and sat down and talked to the government. It worked and the legislation was watered down.

Wilkie went into a sulk, Abbott looked silly and, for once, Gillard pulled a handle and landed the aces. Labor backbenchers, reliant on gambling votes, heaved a huge sigh of relief,

Bookmakers are legal in Australia. In NZ they are not, except for the TAB, which can offer what is called “fixed prices”. “Tote odds” are also available.

Tote odds means the winners receive back all the money gambled, less taxes and the TAB’s take. That way the TAB doesn’t care which horse wins, the total payout is always the same.

A bookie sets his own odds relying on his skill and knowledge. So he hopes an outsider wins so he doesn’t have to pay out much. When a hot favourite gets rolled, the bookies smile.

The NZ TAB is, in my opinion, a rotten bookie. The moment a horse is subject to a decent bet it brings its price down. A good bookie, confident in his knowledge and ability would keep the price the same and invite a big punter to “have another go”.

There are legends of battles between big (and I mean BIG) punters and top bookies. One tells of a punter who put $250,000 on a 10-1 shot. Come again, smiled the bookmaker and put the price up two points. The punter wagered another 250k. The horse lost.

In my heyday I enjoyed a punt. Not big, the most I ever put on a horse was $200 at 10-1. It won easily.

I once collected over $3000 for a $10 bet. I bet that four horses in different races would all run a place at good odds and they all did.

Gambling can be fun or can lead to misery. The simple rule is: Don’t gamble money you can’t afford to lose.

Good punting!

I consider our gaming laws relics from Queen Victoria. Some changes I would make:

  • Remove the TAB monopoly on sports betting
  • Allow Internet gambling (esp as Kiwis just user overseas sites anyway)
  • Allow any Casino operator that meets good character tests to set up a casino in a suitable area

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