Gambling in Melbourne began as a small and part-time hobby for many during the nineteenth century, and often took place in the shape of thoroughbred horse racing. These occurred for many decades before they were officially licensed in 1882 by the Victoria Racing Club, who helped to introduce the track-side bookmaker — with his iconic notepad and board of bets — to the gambling public. This was the golden age of gambling in the state of Victoria, and although this was the only major form of legal gambling taking place, it was still a popular activity and the backbone of many recreational weekends and evenings.
As is the case in all countries, cities and states, gambling wasn’t accepted by everyone in Melbourne, and for many years a subgroup of citizens tried to have horse racing banned. They didn’t succeed in doing so, but they did succeed in slowing down the advancement of the sport and of gambling in general, with one of their “victories” coming when they successful stopped off-track bookmaking from being made legal in the state of Victoria.
This small victory didn’t mean much though as illegal off-track betting flourished throughout the twentieth century, before it was eventually legalized in 1961 and regulated by TAB (Totalizator Agency Board). Lotteries and sweepstakes have also always been widely available and very popular in Melbourne, and typically the government has been very accepting of these as many of them donate a large percentage of their profits to the community.
The most recent — and arguably the biggest — change in Melbourne’s gambling history occurred in 1990 when gaming machines (such as pokies) were made legal across the state. This paved the way for these machines to be bought by clubs, pubs and other venues, and it also opened the doors to casino companies who turned their attentions to this thriving and beautiful part of Australia.
In 1994, the colossal Crown Casino and Entertainment Complex opened on the bank of the Yarra River. This was a resort like no other, covering over 5000.000 square meters and providing Melbourne residents with everything they could ever want concerning casino gambling. This casino has attracted the country’s attention since its opening, when Melbourne native and Six Feet Under star Rachel Griffiths ran naked through the complex in protest (albeit not against the casino itself). It also attracted a lot of media attention in 2013, when a cheat managed to take the casino for over $30 million.
This casino generates around $2 billion a year for the state of Victoria, with many millions of players pumping money into the economy via the slot machines (known as “pokies” to the locals) table games, hotels, shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities. This is the pinnacle of gambling in Melbourne, and will surely remain so for many years to come. There are concerns amongst investors that online gambling may take some of their profits, as players opt for the comfort and ease of gambling in their own home, but if this is going to happen, there are certainly no signs of it happening yet, as the Crown’s profits are up year on year.
Gambling addiction is causing a lot of problems within Australia, and Melbourne is no different, and because of this there is a good chance that the government will clamp down on it. If they do, however, then Victoria is likely to be safer than other states because of venues such as the Crown. The government will not be willing to put such a big venue out of business, as the loss of tax revenue and the loss of jobs will surely do much more damage (certainly in the short term) than problem gambling will ever do. They might try to phase it out though, or they might concentrate their efforts entirely on online gambling, which generates very few jobs for Australians, gives them no tax revenue and still causes as many problems with addiction as land-based casinos do.
Of course, we hope that gambling has a long and bright future in this city and across the entire country, but we might have to cross our fingers on that one, and we can safely assume that Aussie gamblers everywhere will probably be doing the same.