15 Dec

Pokies as Religion: Australia’s Gambling Fascination

Gambling is big business wherever you are in the world, but nowhere is it as big as it is in Australia. Four out of five Aussies gamble on a regular basis, and they spend more money on a weekly flutter than they do on petrol. In fact, although Australia has a reputation as a hard drinking country, Aussies spend nearly twice as much on gambling as they do on alcohol.

The thing that attracts the Aussie dollar more than anything else is the pokie. Simply put, a pokie is a slot machine, taking its name from video poker machines. Australia is unique in its adoration for these machines, and it is undoubtedly this fascination that causes each and every Australian gambler to lose more than gamblers in any other country. Slot machines have the highest house edge of any casino game, which means that the odds are always in favor of the house. These machines are designed to seduce the senses more than any other, and where games like poker and blackjack have been around for hundreds of years and rely on simple rules and a fairly small house edge, pokies take advantage of the technological age to amaze and beguile the player with flashing lights, fancy symbols, bonus rounds and big jackpots, all serving to gloss over the fact that the punter very rarely wins.

In the United Kingdom, where gambling is also part of the culture, horse racing and sports betting leads the way, and the British spend a third of what Aussies spend on slot machines, whereas in the United States, skill games like poker and blackjack dominate the casino floor. Australia, therefore, is unique in its obsession for the pokie.

There are over 70 casinos in Las Vegas, containing close to 200.000 slot machines that cater for the hoard of hopefuls looking to make it big in Sin City. There is also an abundance of slot machines located in Reno, Florida, and in all of the casino cruises that litter the coasts of the United States, not to mention the many casinos in Macau, Europe and elsewhere, and despite this, one out of every five of the world’s slot machines are located in Australia.

That’s not to say that Australia is a casino haven, as may of these machines are located in licensed premises up and down the country. From hairdressers to cinemas, these venues all thrive on the gambling dollar, and there are over 4.000 venues like them in Australia. The Meadow Inn Hotel, located in Victoria, is one of these venues. As its name suggests, this is very much an inn, containing over a dozen rooms complete with all the amenities that you would expect, but it’s fair to say that these days the owners concentrate more on the pokies located onsite than they do on their rooms. A quick look at Trip Advisor will tell you that this establishment has a torrid reputation when it comes to accommodation, no doubt due to the fact that the meager profits generated through cheap accommodation doesn’t come close to the profits generated by the handful of pokies that attract the locals.

Gambling is usually harmless, but only for those who gamble within their means, and in a country with such a large percentage of gamblers, it is perhaps no surprise that there are many who do not gamble within their means, and some for whom gambling is a serious issue.

According to the Australian Medical Association, 2.5% of Australians face moderate to severe problems concerning their gambling habits, which means that for most gambling is not a problem. As with everything else though, it can become a problem, and for many it is a very fine line. When moderation becomes obsession, and a small flutter becomes a huge risk, then there’s a good chance you’ve crossed that line. The number of those with issues is also a contentious one, as according to Problem Gambling — a government funded company that was created with a view to helping those for whom gambling becomes an issue — one out of six regular pokie players has a serious problem.

The truth is that these numbers are hard to pin down. Those who have serious gambling issues tend to hide them away, both from themselves and from their families, so they are unlikely to admit such a problem to someone compiling a survey, just as they are unlikely to seek help.

Problem Gambling also estimate that problem gamblers lose an average of $21.000 a year, but it’s all relative. If you have a lot of expendable income and/or a high paying job, then $21.000 might be pocket change to you, and just because you lose it doesn’t mean you have a problem. If, however, your gambling is negatively affecting your life and the lives of those around you, making you angry, short-tempered, depressed and even violent or abusive, then you may have a problem.

There are problems in every facet of society though, and with everything that brings enjoyment you will find a significant number of people who abuse it and take it too far. Yes these people exist, but that’s not to say that gambling should automatically be stigmatized and spoiled for those who may who get a kick out of it. As we have already established, this industry is bigger than most in Australia, not only does it make a great deal of people happy, but it also brings in huge amounts of tax dollars. Gambling is part of the Australian way of life, and despite the problems it can cause, and the issues it has raised in recent years, that doesn’t look it will change anytime soon.