Australia’s Gambling Problem

On a recent reel ecstasy trip with, we had the pleasure of stopping off in the ‘land of plenty’, otherwise known as Australia. Our first point of call was the Sunshine Coast, on Australia’s East Coast. This beautiful stretch of Australian coastline is a fisherman’s dream, with hundreds of kilometers of unspoilt golden stretches of beach. Yet, underneath what is undoubtedly a beautiful country lies an issue that is effecting all levels of Australian society. Some call Australia the ‘lucky country’, yet the issue of gambling is one which is not only attracting considerable attention in the press, but is also an issue which doesn’t look like it will go away anytime soon. With close to 80% of Australians gambling on a regular basis, Australia has one of the highest rates of gambling in the world, with Aussies loosing close to AU $21.5 billion each and every year. That’s certainly no small change in anyone’s books, and part of the problem appears to be electronic gaming machines and the popularity of online pokies Australia.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of a flutter from time to time, and I’ve been known to be the first to jump at an opportunity to head over to Las Vegas for the latest exhibition or charter fishing conference. And let’s face it – we all know what goes on in Vegas at these events. We spend almost every hour outside of the conference frequenting the numerous casinos! So I’m no prude when it comes to gambling. Yet what amazed me on my trip ‘down under’ was the thirst amongst Australian gamblers for slot machines. Whilst other forms of gambling are prevalent in Australian society, what is clear is that electronic gaming machines have a real grip on the Aussie population.  Popular pokie games from manufacturers such as Aristocrat Technologies can be found at pubs, clubs and casinos across the country. Yet, whilst many play online pokies australia games such as Queen of the Nile, and Choy Sun Doa for their fun and entertainment value, one is left with an underlying impression that there is a potential gambling problem amongst Australia’s population.  In fact, according to the Government’s own problem gambling website, up to 500,000 Australian’s are at risk of becoming, or are indeed already problem gamblers.  It’s clear that Australia’s enchant for the pokies is clear, but at an estimated annual social cost to the community of AU $4.7 billion, how long can this go on?

The general perception is that this is an issue which effects the older population within Australia.  Yet according to statistics released by the Australian Government, young people in the 18 to 24 year old age group spend more time playing the pokies than any other age group.  A figure which is a real issue of concern for all involved in the gambling industry within Australia.

What is clear is that there are powerful pro and anti gambling lobbies within Australia, as seen in attempts made by the government back in 2010 to introduce ‘precommitment technology’ that aimed to effectively assist poker machine players in setting how much money they would be prepared to loose prior to playing and would then lock that player out once this figure had been reached.  Facing the introduction of such legislation, Clubs NSW and the Australian Hotels Association launched a $20 million marketing campaign against the proposed changes, and allegedly between them donated close to $1.3 million to 2 major political parties.  It’s interesting to note that at the time of writing this post the legislation has yet to be implemented.

Yet what is clear is that Australia is not attempting to regulate the online casino sector, a market that has seen considerable growth in recent years, with the 2010 Productivity Report into Gambling within Australia identifying that this industry alone could amount to $800 million.  Given the advancements in mobile phone and tablet technology, advancements that today make it possible to play high quality HD mobile Pokies games whilst on the move, the issue and the impact that the online gambling sector could have within Australia has yet to be fully seen.  What is clear is that lessons can be learnt from other countries, particularly in Europe, where online casino and gambling markets have been successfully regulated, protecting not only players, but also ensuring that appropriate tax revenue is collected rather than disappearing to off-shore operators, never to be seen again.