Australians Are the World’s Biggest Gambling Losers, and Some Seek Action
MELBOURNE, Australia — In pockets of suburbia all across Australia, electronic gambling machines known as pokies await their many customers in pubs, hotels and sports clubs, as common a fixture as A.T.M.s in a shopping mall.
But the unremarkable machines contribute to an extraordinary level of gambling. Government statistics show that they account for more than half of individual Australians’ annual gambling losses, a gargantuan 24 billion Australian dollars, or about $18.4 billion. On a per-capita basis, Australians lose far and away the most in the world: more than 1,200 Australian dollars every year (or $920).
Australia’s gambling losses per adult are more than double those in the United States, and around 50 percent higher than second-placed Singapore, according to H2 Gambling Capital, an analytics company.
As those figures swell, a public war is brewing between venue operators and people against gambling, with each trying to win the hearts and minds of state governments that rely on revenue from the machines.
Known colloquially as pokies, the electronic gaming machines are similar to slot machines seen in casinos elsewhere. Pokies aren’t the only major form of gambling in Australia — casinos account for around 20 percent of gambling losses here — but they remain by far the most profitable for operators and most damaging for gamblers, gaming opponents say. And they permeate small towns with a prominence that is unmatched around the world.
“What makes Australia unique is that we’ve allowed these machines to be embedded in our local communities,” said Angela Rintoul, a research fellow at the Australian Gambling Research Center, a government-financed organization. “We haven’t contained them just to casinos, where many jurisdictions in the world have.”
In Australia, the pubs, clubs and hotels that house the machines usually resemble typical English pubs, replete with a bar and dining area but with the addition of a dedicated gaming room.