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Gambling in Australia


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Australian FlagAustralians love to gamble. From the moment of the country's inception as the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, the government has both permitted and promoted almost all types of gambling. Over the past century, gambling has evolved significantly in the land down under.

Here is a brief history of the past 100 years in Australian gambling:

  • 1901-1919 - Early on in the commonwealth's history, British influence promoted the popularity of card games and horse racing. Asian and European influences also affected the evolution of games at this time.
  • 1920s - In the 1920s, the government introduced its first lottery gaming system with the hope of claiming revenue.
  • 1930s-1960s - Between the 1930s and 1960s, off-course sports betting grew popular in underground Australia, resulting in revenue deprivation for the government.
  • 1970s - In the 1970s, casinos and slot machinery gained Australian favor thanks to the influence of the United States. Off-course sports betting became legal, allowing the government to recapture the revenue it had previously lost due to illegal underground activities.
  • Today - Gambling in Australia is an integral part of the society's culture. Almost all forms of gambling are tolerated. The general attitude toward gambling in the country seems to be this: it's fun, it's not a sin, and it's a great way for the government to collect important revenue dollars.

Australia's Financial Landscape:

Good for Gambling Australia is the 5th wealthiest country in the world. With an unemployment rate of less than 5 percent, poverty is almost non-existent. The economy in Australia is stimulated by a booming export market. Wool, wheat, iron ore and gold are some of the most popular exports; these products are purchased by the U.S., Japan, and China, to name a few. As a result of the country's positive economic flow, over 80 percent of citizens have both the desire and the personal funds to gamble.

Brick-and-Mortar Casinos: Popular Leisure Destinations

The Crown Casino (Melbourne, Austalia)Because gambling is a highly valued social and leisure activity, casinos fare well in Australia.Melbourne's Crown Casino is the largest gambling site in the country, drawing in over 12 million people per year. The Star Sydney Casino is the second largest facility, offering deluxe accommodations and entertainment. Other popular casino destinations include the 1985-builtAdelaide Casino, Crown Perth, The Treasury in Brisbane, and Skycity Darwin, formerly owned byMGM Grand. Christmas Island Resort caters to wealthy Asian tourists, bringing a hefty sum of foreign money into the country as well.

Favorite Games in Australia

Australians are open to just about any wagering game that has ever been invented. Pokies, or slot machines, are a timeless favorite found in casinos, restaurants, and bars throughout the land. In casinos, Aussies may be found playing blackjack, baccarat, numerous versions of poker, sic bo, and Spanish 21. The government oversees all lottery activity in the country. Some lottery systems are privately owned while others are sponsored by the government. Bookmaking has a long history in Australia as well. Off-course betting, once illegal, is now tolerated when it is done within specific government guidelines.

Two-Up

The controversial game of two-up is illegal in some parts of Australia. This game, traditionally associated with the land down under since World War I, interestingly becomes legal once per year, on ANZAC day, in New South Wales. Some versions of the game are legal in other territories. The game is based on the concept of a coin toss. A spinner tosses a coin twice; different payouts exist for different head-tail combinations.

1990s: Online Gambling Gets the Cold Shoulder from Government

In the 1990s, computer technology advanced to the point that online gaming became a possibility in Australia. Instead of embracing the idea as it had other forms of gambling, however, the government balked at the notion of Internet gambling. Their primary reason for this had nothing to do with morals; rather, the government feared that online wagering would ultimately result in a loss of government revenue. Because online activity is difficult to monitor and regulate, money wagered online was money taken away from the government, according to this line of thinking. It wasn't until the government authored the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001, however, that these beliefs were spelled out officially.

Proposed strategy to reduce harm from online gambling (Diagram from the Interactive Gambling Act 2011)

The Interactive Gambling Act of 2001

The Interactive Gambling Act, or IGA, aimed to clarify Australia's policies toward online gambling. Rather than make it illegal for citizens to gamble online, the act made it illegal for gaming websites to accept Australian players. The only exception to this is sports betting. When it comes to sporting events, Australians can legally wager money via the Internet. A caveat: if the match has already begun, betting is illegal.

The way the IGA is constructed creates an interesting paradox. Australians are allowed to gamble online, yet any website accepting Aussie players runs the risk of getting penalized. A further paradox lies in the fact that many online gambling sites are located outside of Australia, thus making them impervious to Australian law. In short, Aussies can gamble online if they can find a place that will accept them as players. Websites are forbidden to accept them according to Australian law, but websites based in foreign territories are not obligated to follow this law.

It seems that the Australian intent of preserving government revenue via the IGA has not gone to plan. For the time being, however, the country continues to fare well economically, and its brick-and-mortar casino business continues to thrive.