Bigger is Not Better - The Evolution of Gambling in Australia

Australians have always loved to have a bet. Gambling has always been an accepted part of Australian culture, be it a game of ‘two up’ on Anzac Day or having a punt on the Melbourne Cup, which is dubbed as the ‘race that stops a nation’, where most adults will have a bet on the race and work places will stop working during the race. In the last decade and a half Australia has seen an over-saturation of new gambling mediums. The advent of poker machines, or ‘Pokies’ as they are often called, the expansion of totalisers and race meetings covered, the increase in casinos, sports betting both live and online and recently betting on winners of reality television shows or elections has reached a stage to which one could ask ‘where next?’.


The Australian gambling culture dates back a long time. The first thoroughbred horse races in Australia are said to have been held in Sydney in the early 1800’s. Although gambling was prohibited at the time, people would make wagers with each other, which ultimately resulted in certain individuals becoming bookmakers. Bookmakers were later regulated by governments in the late 1800’s. Since that date horse racing has gained great popularity, and is currently the third highest attended sport in the country, and the racing industry is now the third largest employer in Australia 1). In the mid 1960’s, the New South Wales state government decided to create a totaliser agency board, or TAB’s as they are often referred to, which would be a regulated agency where punters could place investments 2). Currently you will find TAB’s in every town and city in Australia, and also within pubs and clubs.

During World War One and beyond, a game called ‘two up’ became popular among Australian soldiers. This game involved putting two coins (usually pennies) on a wooden paddle and tossing them up in the air. The soldiers would bet on whether the coins will land either heads, tails or evens, which is one of each. The game has now become a tradition in Australia, with many RSL’s (Returned Soldiers League clubs) being allowed to play two up on ANZAC day (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, ANZAC day is national public holiday which is commemorated each year to honour soldiers who gave their lives in battle). Two up is also played in some casinos around Australia.

The first licensed casino in Australia was located in Hobart, Tasmania is 1973 3). Today there is a casino in every state capital city, along with one in Townsville, Queensland which is a medium sized city in the north of the state. Currently there are applications to open second casinos in Sydney, New South Wales and also on the Gold Coast in Queensland.

Slot machines, or poker machines were present in Australian casinos since their advent. However in the mid to late 1980’s some state governments allowed these machines to be installed into pubs and clubs. This revolutionised the gambling industry in Australia, and many clubs and pubs started to record massive profits. Currently Western Australia is the only state who does not allow these machines outside of casinos.

With the increased availability of the internet and improved technology, online gambling was the next medium of gambling that skyrocketed. The first online bookmakers were approved in the early 2000’s, however they really started to gain popularity in the latter part of the decade. The online bookmakers offer fixed betting odds on a range of events, from horse racing to the most obscure sports worldwide. Some online bookmakers will also take best on election results, royal baby names, reality television show winners, who will be the next pope and even what colour hat the Queen of England might wear on a certain day.


A recent report has stated that Australians are now the world’s biggest gamblers. On average each Australian resident loses $1,114 each on gambling each year 4). In 2011 there were over 200,000 poker machines in pubs and clubs, which equates to approximately one machine for every 158 people, which accounts for 2.8% of all machines worldwide 5).

Casinos continue to operate in every capital city with plans to expand further in the future. There are now more than 40 online bookmakers who are allowed to operate in Australia, with some based in the country and some based overseas. The TAB’s take bets on over 250 races per day both locally and overseas, with a race every 2-3 minutes during the race days. This includes betting on harness and greyhound racing. They also take bets on all types of sporting events worldwide.


Whilst it is seen as an ‘Australian way’ to enjoy having a bet, the amount of gambling options and the saturation of venues both offline and online is an area that should be of some concern to the public and decision makers. Online bookmakers or other gambling establishments frequently advertise on television and also at live sporting venues. Governments must take measures in order to limit the amount of exposure to children and adolescents to avoid Australia remaining as the biggest gamblers in the world. More funding should be directed to help awareness campaigns and help for people who are identified as problem gamblers.

Australia | Hobbies | Sports | Gambling

Racing Victoria, 2014, ‘Careers in the Racing Industry’, Available: Accessed 6th February, 2014.
New South Wales Government, 2014, ‘State Records’, Available: Accessed 6th February, 2014.
he Allen Consulting Group, 2009, ‘Casinos and the Australian Economy’, Available: Accessed 6th February, 2014.
SBS Australia, 2014, ‘Aussies world's biggest gamblers: report’, Available: Accessed 6th February, 2014
The Age Online, 2011, ‘Poker machine count puts Australia in big time’, Available: Accessed 6th February, 2014

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