Gambling is widespread in Australia, very widespread in fact, and Australians spend a relatively huge amount of their income on gambling, which amounts to almost $20 billion a year. That’s almost $1000 for every man, woman, and child in the country. (1)
Most of the gambling in Australia is done by playing what they call poker machines, or pokies, and some poker machines are actually video poker terminals, but this is what Australians call slot machines. (2) Poker machines are extremely popular here, and Australia has 180,000 of these machines, far more than any other country in the world, and 5 times as many as the United States has. (3)
We can safely say that the term ‘pokies’ has evolved from poker machine as Australians love to abbreviate their language into short slang words. If you are looking for information on pokies and not poker just stay on this page and check for updates throughout the year for more information.
Land-based gambling in Australia is regulated at the state level although they all have gambling and plenty of it. Each state actually has its own laws that pertain to gambling, but it’s legal everywhere to gamble although in Western Australia, slot machines are disallowed except in the Crown Casino Perth. (4). Elsewhere, these laws only pertain to the finer details of gambling, such as what sort of payout must be given to players, which does differ by state, as well as other matters of how the games are offered and run.
With all of this gambling going on, there is some concern about the effects of so-called problem gambling. There are said to be somewhere between 80,000 to 160,000 Australians who are addicted to gambling, and this is said to cost about $4.7 billion annually to society.
The government takes in quite a bit more that that in tax revenue though, and the people of Australia love their gambling too much to likely ever want to see it outlawed, not that this would probably curtail it much. A gambling ban would probably just drive the activity underground like we generally see in countries that implement them. In the Philippines, for instance, there are some very harsh penalties for gambling, but it is very rampant anyway. So rather than relinquish control to criminals and miss out on the tax revenue, Australia has chosen to promote gambling and then deal with the consequences as best it can. This is very likely to continue.
It may actually be helpful if a game like poker took over more of the gambling market share here from slot machines, which are known to have a higher potential for addiction and abuse. There are criticisms in Australia that so many people here are seen playing these machines mindlessly for hours on end. Perhaps we’d see less problem gambling if more people took to playing poker instead.
Playing Poker in Australia
In addition to the massive amount of slot machines, or poker machines, there are a lot of places where you can place bets on horse races, run by the Totalisator Agency Board (TAB), which has over 3,000 locations throughout Australia. (5). These operations were originally government-owned, but a lot have been privatized although the government still regulates them as they do all forms of legal gambling.
There are plenty of other ways to gamble as well. Bingo is particularly popular here. There are more than 20 casinos in Australia, and many are larger ones with hotels attached. More than a dozen card rooms offer live poker with a total of more than 100 live poker tables in the country so far. (6)
Poker is fairly popular here, aside from poker machines that is, and a lot of Australians play poker online as well. In a study done back in 2010, Australia ranked 10th in the world as far as the most real money online poker players by country. (7)
The Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 was aimed at preventing gambling operators within Australia from accepting Australian players as well as preventing both domestic and foreign gambling operators from advertising their services in Australia. (8) This legislation proved ineffective, and offshore gaming enterprises continued to serve Australians because of a loophole in the way the law was worded. However, in 2017, the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill was passed to firm up the language and prevent these companies from continuing to accept customers from Australia. There was significant opposition to the Interactive Gambling Amendment, spearheaded by the Australian Online Poker Alliance and Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm, but their efforts ultimately proved futile.
However, it remains perfectly legal for Australians to play at foreign-based gambling websites, which in the case of poker, allows them to choose whatever online poker sites they want to play at without any fear of the government trying in any way to stop them. The organizations offering the games are the ones targeted, and if their violations of the law are severe enough, they could be subject to fines in excess of $1 million. Ordinary players don’t face any legal sanctions, though, and are free to play online wherever they choose.
After the passage of the 2016 Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill, several large poker providers opted to exit the Australian market. They included PokerStars, 888poker, and PartyPoker. Nevertheless, (9) other poker sites continue to serve Aussies, and there have even been firms that have recently opened their doors to the country, like Ignition Poker and Casino.
This isn’t really a perfect situation for online poker players because their choice of sites is restricted. Still, it could be worse because there are plenty of jurisdictions around the world, like Spain and the Czech Republic, where regulations on real money online gaming have practically strangulated the market. Australians at least have a decent selection of online poker rooms to play at even if some of the big names aren’t present.
Often times, internet poker rooms do not have the advantage of letting players play on the main poker sites, and in some countries you are restricted to just playing against players from your own country. This reduces the potential player pool from most of the world, including your own country, to just your own country, and a lot of players in some areas where this is practiced at the legally licensed sites – Italy and Sweden for instance – complain about the lack of action this scheme provides to them. They can’t play as many tables at they want at the games they want and at the stakes they want. Fortunately, the sites that remain for Australians don’t ring-fence the country in any way; customers from the “Land Down Under” have access to the global player pools and the bustling game lobbies that they make possible.
So now you don’t have to deal with any of these restrictions on whom you can compete against, and you don’t have to worry about the government looking to prohibit you from playing wherever you want. This is something that players really love of course.
It would actually make a lot of sense for Australia to regulate online poker at some point. The benefit for players would be that some of the rooms that have exited the country may decide to return, and there would also be advantages for the government. Online poker legalization and licensing would not only increase tax revenue from gambling but would also enable the authorities to exercise more control over it especially given how widespread problem gambling is believed to be.
There isn’t any movement toward that as of yet, and an October 2017 parliamentary report on the participation of Australians in online poker concluded that any steps toward legalization should be taken cautiously and only after strong measures are in place to protect consumers particularly gambling addicts. This might be just a matter of time, but for whatever reason, Australian authorities haven’t been in any sort of hurry here at all. It may be the case that land-based gaming tycoons are exerting their influence to restrict competition from coming in through the internet, but there’s a lot of money spent online too and definitely enough to put this on the radar of money-hungry politicians.
For now, Australian poker players can enjoy relative freedom here while they wait for whatever decisions the lawmakers in Canberra take next. It’s pretty nice that there’s nothing penalizing regular players. Even if the government were to attempt a total prohibition with a panoply of enforcement mechanisms, there’s every likelihood that the residents of Australia would simply find workarounds, but it has happily not come to this point yet.
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