Australian Gambling By Numbers

Chloe Wilson - EditorChloe Wilson - 07 November 2018 in Features

Australian Gambling By Numbers

The Australian gambling market is growing every year and the scope of the betting industry keeps on changing with new laws and trends.

We examine this dynamic market and discuss the current state of the Australian gambling laws. Let’s look at the factors which have contributed to the growth of gambling in Australia, current legislation and which sectors contribute the most to the Australian gambling industry. We also address the issue of compulsive gambling in Australia and what is being done to fight this problem.

Factors Contributing to the Growth of Gambling in Australia

The emergence of the online casino caused a surge in the popularity of gambling by bringing it into the comfort of your home. The mobile casino ensured that the boom continued unabated and grew exponentially by personalizing gambling and allowing you to play your top online casino games on the go, directly from your mobile device, anytime and from anywhere.

A number of changes have occurred in the gambling industry in just the last decade or so, and each of them has contributed to the growth of the industry:

  • Live streaming Allows you to experience the ambience of a land-based casino from your home! You get to play regular table games and also craps, bingo and slots with real live dealers.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) games Offers an immersive experience and allows you to play games beyond the standard spin-and-win offerings. Experience real-life gaming on demand from your device.
  • HTML5 and mobile casino gaming Mobile casino gaming allows you to play all your favorite games on the go, directly from your smartphone or tablet. The use of HTML5 now guarantees uniformity in looks, game portfolio, payment support and customer support across desktop and mobile versions.
  • Blockchain technology Blockchain technology is behind the newest trend in online casino gambling – cryptocurrency payments. Cryptocurrency payments guarantee 100% security, reliability and anonymity.
  • Increased security for payments and personal data Your payments and personal information are secured with the latest security protocols like 128-bit SSL encryption and secure servers.
  • Improved customer experience The use of cookies and analytics allows casinos to customize the overall player experience. This in turn has a direct impact on sign-ups and player retention.

Australian Online Casino Gambling Legislation

The first piece of legislation to regulate gambling in Australia – the Interactive Gambling Act – didn’t impact online gambling much because it was passed in 2001, when this form of gambling was still new.

It took another 16 years for the government to take the next steps to regulate gambling. It did this by passing the Interactive Gambling Amendment Act of 2017. Among other things, the Act required operators to obtain a license from the Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA) to cater to the Australian market.

Australian Gambling in Numbers

The numbers tell you exactly how the gambling industry has been surging ahead in in Australia.

The total bets that Australian players placed in 2017-2018 were worth AU$242 billion:

This is a huge leap from the AU$208 billion spent in 2016-2017! Average that out across the 19.75 million adult Australians – as per data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – and you get an average per capita spend of about AU$12,000 annually!

Here is the total expenditure across all gaming categories in Australia for 2017-2018:

  • Casino: AU$5.1 billion
  • Gaming machines: AU$12.5 billion
  • Interactive gaming: AU$1,000
  • Keno: AU$347.5 million
  • Lotto: AU$1.9 billion
  • Lotteries: AU$46.4 million
  • Instant lottery: AU$189 million
  • Minor gaming: AU$34.6 million
  • Pools: AU$6.8 million

Big spend in gambling raises the potential for big losses. Take a look at the losses suffered by Australian players during the same period, for the money they spent (as listed above), and you know why Australians are considered among the biggest spenders and worst losers in the world!

Australia ranks first in annual gambling losses per adult, as per a 2017 study by H2 Gambling Capital:

  • Australia: US$958
  • Hong Kong: US$768
  • Singapore: US$725
  • Finland: US$515
  • New Zealand: US$454
  • Japan: US$447
  • Ireland: US$433
  • Norway: US$430
  • USA: US$421
  • Canada: US$382

The overall losses incurred by Australian players in 2017-2018 were worth AU$24.887 billion, a 5% increase from the total of AU$23.694 billion in 2016-2017! Translate that down to losses per capita and you get a high AU$1,260 that Australian players lost in that year!

The following is a break-up of the losses by game type:

From these numbers you will see that the increase in spend year on year – from 2016-2017 to 2017-2018 – as per a report in the 35th edition of the Australian Gambling Statistics is quite significant:

  • Per capita gambling expenditure 3.3% increase, from AU$1,251.39 to AU$1,292.25
  • Total electronic gaming expenditure 3.2% increase, from AU$12.136 billion to AU$12.520 billion
  • Total casino expenditure 6.5% increase, from AU$4.790 billion to AU$5.101 billion
  • Total race betting expenditure 7.1% increase, from AU$3.313 billion to AU$3.547 billion
  • Total sportsbetting expenditure 16.3% increase, from AU$1.062 billion to AU$1.235 billion

Pokies and Australian Gambling

The high numbers are backed up by easy and frequent access to gambling equipment, especially pokies. A 2017 report showed that Australia has 20% of all the pokies or slot machines in the world! A survey by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 2017 found there were 200,000 of these machines in Australia, with 100,000 in New South Wales.

The reason is that it is one of few countries that allow these machines to be installed in locations apart from casinos. You would find pokies/slot machines at bars, pubs and even eating joints across all of Australia, except Western Australia.

Of course, there are rules and regulations governing the use of these machines, but they just might not be enough. For instance, you are not allowed to bet more than AU$5 at a time. While that itself may seem like a good measure, it actually isn’t because a player could easily end up placing 20 bets of AU$5 and lose AU$100 in 20 minutes!

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Sportsbetting and Australian Gambling

Sportsbetting in Australia is hugely popular among the younger generation. This popularity is fueled partly by the explosion in popularity of mobile devices and the ability now to place bets directly from your mobile.

There was a growth of a little less than 13% in bets placed on races from 2015-2016 to 2016-2017. There was a growth of 4% in sportsbetting for the same period. The sportsbetting numbers see an unusual spike in 2017-2018: it grew by 14.9%, while the growth in the numbers for racing was lower, at 8.1%.

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Gambling in Australia During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic may have brought the land-based casino industry to a grinding halt in Australia, but it had the exact opposite effect on the online gambling industry.

According to a survey in 2020, the gambling-spend per month during the COVID-19 lockdown shot up for men, while for women it reduced slightly. For men, it rose from AU$594 in the pre-COVID-19 times to AU$770 during the lockdown, a jump of over AU$175. For women, it slumped from a pre-lockdown AU$250 to AU$100 during the lockdown.

Here are a few key findings of the study:

The games that the people surveyed engaged in most during the lockdown were:

Problem Gambling in Australia

One look at the numbers listed earlier and you know that there definitely is a problem. For an individual to spend AU$12,000 a year on gambling is just not right, especially when you know that the money could have been better spent elsewhere. And it is an indicator of another major issue lurking in the shadows – problem gambling.

Gambling stress prompts about 400 Australians to take the extreme step of suicide each year, a figure that the numbers from Australia’s Productivity Commission seem to agree on.

The Victorian Population Gambling and Health Study 2018-2019 threw up an interesting and scary statistic – two-thirds or 69% of the adult population of Victoria had participated in one form of gambling or another over the previous year. More than 200,000 Australian players had a high-level gambling problem. And almost double that number had a lower level problem!

Here is some data about problem gamblers in New South Wales, as per the NSW Gambling Survey of 2019, backed up by numbers collated by Goodwin and others in 2017:

One of the reasons for such heavy numbers across Australia is the extensive amount of advertising and promotion that gambling receives across various media. A research study of 2019 found that on an average there were 374 gambling ads daily on free-to-air Australian TV in 2016!

Problem gambling in Australia is a reality that comes with a lot of negative effects for victims:

So what would be the way forward? Most of the people who participated in the study suggested one or more of the following as changes that needed to be made:

  • Reduce the number of promotions relating to gambling.
  • Regulate negative ads, much the same way as regulation of advertising for alcohol or tobacco.
  • Remove display of ads within sporting events.
  • Reduce and finally remove official sponsorships by betting agencies.
  • Stop normalizing gambling.
  • Reduce gaming room hours in pubs and clubs.
  • Reduce the number of gambling hours in pubs and clubs.
  • Make pre-commitment per entry mandatory in land-based gambling outlets.
  • Remove pokies from all venues except casinos.
  • Introduce a national self-exclusion register.
  • Remove casino games from app stores.

By the end of 2018, gaming ministers of the different states and territories of Australia put together a National Consumer Protection Framework for online betting.

Other steps have been taken as well. One of them was upgrading the Gambling Administration Act of 1995 to the Gambling Administration Act of 2019. The purpose of this law: to provide a framework that was in sync with the developments and events related to gambling in Australia today.

These are some of the initiatives that are being planned, according to experts:

  • Develop a National Gambling Strategy to help problem gamblers.
  • Review and upgrade responsible codes of conduct.
  • Ensure regular compliance and monitoring.
  • Put in place self-exclusion programs that are effective.
  • Review and reduce advertising related to gambling.

The gambling industry is vibrant in Australia, but there are red flags as well. The need of the hour is to have checks and balances in place to ensure safe and fair gambling and ensure protection of the vulnerable. The gambling reforms that have been initiated, and the ones in the pipeline, therefore, seem to be on time. However, it remains to be seen if they will be enough.

Further Reading: Australian Gambling Authorities and Regulations

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