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Australian Gambling Inquiry Announced

30 April 1998

The Australian federal government just announced a federal inquiry into gambling and the gambling industry. This is heavy stuff in Australia, as the federal government does not control gambling under the constitution (instead it's a matter for the states). In political terms, just announcing such an inquiry indicates that the federal government is unhappy with the growth of gambling and the increasing dependence by state governments on gambling taxation. In some states gambling revenue now represents over 10% of all state revenue.

The announcement comes on the heels of the latest gambling industry figures which show Australians churned AUD $ 80 billion (US$ 52 Billion) and lost AUD $10 billion (US $6.5 billion). Now that may not sound like a lot until you consider that there are only about 18 million Aussies. (More people live in Los Angeles than all of Australia!) That translates into a per-person (man, woman and child) expenditure (money lost) of AUD $737 (US $479).

The Break up of that personal expenditure on different forms of gambling from 1996 to 1997 was as shown below.

Aust. $ (at $.65 US per $1 Aust.) US $
Racing 123 (Horse, Greyhounds, Harness) 80
Slots 363 (Including Card Machines) 235
Casino 144 (includes casino slots) 94
Lotto 64 42
Scratch 16 10

27 (Bingo, Football Pools etc.) 18
TOTAL 737 479

The federal Treasurer of Australia, Mr. Peter Costello, said at his press conference, "a recent estimate by the Tasmanian Gaming Commission suggested Australians wagered around $80 billion a year on gambling, but there was limited information on the performance of gambling industries and their economic and community impacts. The Government's decision follows concerns within the community about the effects of the gambling industry in Australia."

Costello said the inquiry was prompted by concerns about the massive increase in gambling in recent years, and the social impact this was having.

"In particular, there is a lack of information on the impact of gambling on the retail, tourism and entertainment industries," he said. "The Government has received a number of representations from small retailers arguing that the growth of gambling has adversely affected their business. Little is also known about the community impacts of rapid growth in gambling."

This is quite a major action on the part of the federal government who, up until now, has kept right out of gaming issues and just let the states go for it. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has gone on the record saying that in his "personal" view, (like his press officer said to me "make sure you say it's his personal view and not a policy indicator!"), "there is too much gambling in Australia."

For conspiracy theorists, here's a tidbit to get you going: The federal Treasure's brother, the Reverend Tim Costello, is a leading anti-gambling crusader!

Where this will lead nobody knows, what it will do is raise the stakes on the issue of gaming growth and make state politicians more sensitive to any more new gambling deals. This comes right when a few hardy (and now very, very frustrated) regulators are trying to get the national Internet gaming laws in place. It might slow things down as politicians cover their backsides. Already, western Australia has said "no" to the national Internet gambling laws (and this week said "no" to slot machines outside of the casino).

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