Australia is considered the ‘Land of Plenty’. Plenty of what, you ask? We have highly a diverse wildlife, particularly famous for an extensive range of marsupials. We have a fantastic warm weather climate with an abundance of natural wonders that draw tourists in droves each year. We also happen to have plenty—and by plenty I mean well over 200,000 assortments—of pokies!
Pokies, or EGM’s (Electronic Gaming Machines) as they are officiously titled, are a big part of Australian culture. In fact, most Aussies will proudly tell you that gambling is a huge part of our society. ‘Everyone gambles in Australia’, they say, and while it doesn’t mean that 100% of adult Aussies actually wager their hard earned dollars, it’s more of an accepted stereotype that developed over the decades as most Australians do in fact gamble at least once a year.
Gambling has been a constant in Australian society dating all the way back to the late 18th century. That was when the British decided to solve their overflowing prison problem by shipping 165,000+ convicts to a “penal colony”. Perhaps it’s our deep-seeded criminal genealogy that drives us to gamble so much? Or maybe it’s just our tremendous enthusiasm for the thrill of the win? Whatever it is, we sure do love a fair go at them.
Back in 1990, Susan Pinto and Paul Wilson compiled a thesis on community trends for the Australian Institute of Criminology in which their research concluded that nearly 90% of all legal aged Australians gamble. That number has declined somewhat in the last two decades as it’s now believed that only 70-80% of adult Australians gamble, which still makes us the highest rated gambling community in all the world. That’s not to say 70-80% of Aussie’s gamble every single day, or week, or even every month, but they do it, and they’re not ashamed of it.
Aussies will gamble on just about anything they can possibly come up with. Pinto and Wilson wrote, “many Australians are proud of their reputation as a nation of people who will ‘bet on two flies on a wall’.” It’s a common joke, but not so far from reality as one might think. It could be anything from betting on the Melbourne Cup, which draws the highest amount of wagering action across the continent, to bets on frog jumping in the Outback.
If Aussies enjoy gambling with each other so much on a social level, why is it that pokies have become popular? I believe there are several reasons for it, including convenience, entertainment and the possibility of some enormous jackpot wins. Add to that the superfluity of pokies, which eliminates the need for a fellow bettor. As much as we love a quick round of Two-Up, if you can’t find someone to bet with, there are always plenty of pokies willing to take your coins. Pokies are an individual game, man versus machine. There’s no room for error in determining wins and losses, and deserved payouts are always forthcoming (meaning your sobriety deficient opponent isn’t going to punch you because he thinks you cheated, or run out the door because he hasn’t got enough money to pay up).
Getting back to the cultural aspect, the very first pokies seen in Australia were installed between 1900-1910, not long after Charles Fey was credited with inventing the slot machine in the United States in the late 1890’s. Pokie machines were an instant hit in local pubs and boozers, despite the fact that they were entirely illegal. It took 50 years for any Australian territory to legalize pokies. New South Wales was the first, lifting the prohibition in 1956 to allow pokie machines in all registered clubs. The ACT followed suit in the 1970’s, and all other territories eventually jumped aboard before the turn of the millennium, although Western Australia has the strictest laws, confining very limited varieties of pokies to the Burswood Casino (they are illegal everywhere else in WA).
In recent years, studies have shown that 62% of Australia’s gambling expenditures go towards EGM’s, therefore pokies are the dominant source of taxable gambling revenue. That same study revealed that 70-75% of adults surveyed don’t play the pokies “in any given year”; which translates to 25-30% of all Australian’s having a go on the pokies at least on an annual basis.
With such a rooted history in cultural gambling, it’s no surprise that the Australian Commonwealth Parliament chose to enact laws in regards to online pokies as quickly as they did. The Interactive Gambling Act was enforced in July of in 2001. It outlined how online gambling companies can and cannot operate—it became illegal for operators outside the commonwealth to offer services to Australia, and legal for certain authorized operators in Australia to offer services outside of Australia only—but imposed no penalties on Australians for gambling online.
Such merciful laws make it fairly clear that parliament understands the undying culture of this society. Online pokies may not be legal per say, but without the imposition of penalties for playing them, Australia has become an ever growing market for iGaming operators who continue to present Aussie’s with their favorite online pokies.