The laws regarding online gambling in Australia are strange, and the effect that they have on the gambling culture are somewhat unexpected. It began in 2001 when a law called the Interactive Gambling Act was passed. This law was supposed to “protect Australian citizens from online gambling” but rather than banning online gambling altogether, it merely made it an offense for online casinos and sports books to advertise their services to Australian residents. As it happens, everything from sports betting to casinos and poker are legal in Australia, it just doesn’t receive the same advertising here as it does in other countries where it is also legal. But therein lies a contradiction, because Australians gamble more than any other nation.
According to official statistics, 8 put of 10 people in the country gamble on a regular basis, which is more than any other nation. How gambling (or anything for that matter) can be so successful and so widespread when there is no advertising to push it, is hard to believe, yet at the same time it makes perfect sense — but we’ll get to that later.
The good thing for gamblers in Australia, and for those thinking of moving there, is that whether the casino, sports book or poker room is based abroad or within Australia, there are no laws restricting its operation. These include the many pokies that can be found throughout the country.
When it comes to gambling, pokies, whose name is derived from “poker machines”, are by far the most favorite pastime of Australians. This name covers a broad range of what the rest of the world refers to as slot machines, including reel slots, video slots, progressive slots and, of course, video poker. Of the $19 billion that Australians gamble every year, $12 billion of it goes on pokies, which is a huge number, and an equally huge surprise when you consider that these machines often have the highest house edge (which means the odds are more in the favor of the casino) than any other casino game.
Why this nation is so obsessed with pokies is not entirely clear, but it probably has something to do with the addictive potential of these machines. Pokies work on the same parts of our brain that computer games act on, known as the pleasure centre. This means that pokies are effectively like a very difficult game, one that can be frustrating to play and constantly lose at, but one that you keep on playing because when you finally do win, the rewards are that much greater. Things such as “False Wins”, which is when money is won, but it is less than the stake, and “Close Calls”, which is when all but one of the bonus symbols or jackpot symbols appear, add to the addictive potential.
Of course that would explain why pokies are popular in Australia and why they are one of the main draws of casinos worldwide, but it doesn’t explain why pokies only have this sort of sheer dominance in Australia. For this we have to look at the pub culture and drinking culture of Australia. Pokies are very popular in pubs, and this is where many people first played them and first became addicted to them. And when you have a culture that is very accepting and open with its drinking culture, and one that allows people to drink and gamble when they are just 18 years of age, you have entire generations who are exposed to these machines at an early age.
For many it’s not an issue, but for a small percentage it can become a serious problem. Gambling may be legal in Australia today, but that small percentage adds up to a lot when you consider just how many people gamble regularly. That might cause problems down the line. It seems unlikely right now, when offline and online gambling is very much legal in all of its forms, but it’s not far fetched to assume that gambling will be restricted at some point in Australia’s future. Of course, we hope it’s not, and many Australians will side with us on that, but if you are one of them then this could be the golden age of gambling for you, so make sure you get your fill.