Australia’s Productivity Commission, an independent research and advisory body of the federal government, has produced a comprehensive “Report on Gambling” in response to calls from the Council of Australian Governments. The report, which focuses on problem gambling, has been distributed to state and territorial officials, industry leaders and concerned stakeholders and has spurred the federal government to call for formation of a high-level COAG Select Council of Ministers on Gambling Reform to work toward a national approach to minimize the harm caused by problem gambling.
The report found that about 70 percent of Australians participate in some form of gambling. In 2008-09, total expenditure (losses) reached just over A$19 billion, an average of $1,500 per adult who gambled. However, the spectacular growth seen throughout the 1990s, driven principally by the liberalization of machine gambling, has gone, and there is reduced participation across the industry as a whole. Gambling in Australia is now a mature industry, growing at a rate similar to most other industries.
Gambling in Australia takes many forms: Lotto and “scratchies” - which are the most popular in terms of participation rates though they comprise a relatively small share of spending - electronic gaming machines, or “pokies,” as they’re commonly known, casino table games, race and sports betting and a nascent, but rapidly growing, online sector. EGMs are the dominant source of gambling revenue.
REALITIES HIT HOMEUnderlying these facts are some significant realities: 1) Real spending per machine gambler has grown dramatically over the years. In Victoria, average annual EGM spend has risen in real terms from around $1,750 per player in 1999 to nearly $3,100 in 2008. In New South Wales it has risen from $2,645 to $3,700. 2) Casinos increasingly face strong competition in attracting international high-rollers as Asian competitors develop new and expensive facilities. 3) Sports wagering has been growing rapidly. 4) Online gaming, though invisible in official records, appears to have grown rapidly, with spending in 2008-09 possibly as high as $800 million.
What this means in terms of problem gambling is difficult to say precisely. Various state surveys suggest that the number of Australians categorized as “problem gamblers” is around 115,000, with those deemed to be a “moderate risk” ranging around 280,000. The risks are low for people who only play lotteries and scratchies but rise steeply with the frequency of gambling on table games, sports and especially pokies. Some 600,000 Australians (4 percent of the adult population) play pokies at least weekly. Survey results vary, but it is generally believed that 15 percent of these regular players (95,000), accounting for 40 percent of total EGM spend, are problem gamblers.