Gambling and Australia

What do Aussies love? An underdog. Having a yarn and a laugh. Drinking. But boy do we love gambling.

In 2015, 6.8 million or 39% of Australian adults gambled in a typical month. Of those 6.8 million, the average expenditure in the past year was an estimated $1,272. Also, we claim the title for the highest per capita spend in the world. So it’s pretty popular, to say the least. 

Personally, I don’t mind gambling. Hell, I love the idea of gambling.

But sadly gambling is fun until it’s not. It’s a slippery slope into addiction that I believe betting companies enable.

Australia is in a way very similar to the US. So with the new laws allowing legalized sports betting, I think this could potentially show a potential outcome of what things may be like in the future.

This post’s aim is to highlight just what gambling, and more specifically sports betting, is like in Australia. From the populations spending habits, the companies and what they’re like, and some personal anecdotes thrown in for good measure. I’m not trying to encourage gambling. But I don’t think I’m trying to discourage it either. Maybe just responsibility and overall address what it’s like? I genuinely tried not to be too whiny or critical, but I think I failed that so I’m sorry in advance.

My Thoughts

Honestly, I don’t mind the punt. I love the thoughtful challenge of it. Being able to have a belief, then put your money where your mouth is to back that belief. Like Annie Duke’s “Thinking in Bets” book talks about, making a bet forces us to think about the potential outcomes and the chances of that happening. I love that aspect. I love to think about potential outcomes and give them rough weightings off the top of my head. Check against the odds offered, and make a bet if I feel the outcomes are weighted in my favour with favourable odds. 

Problem is, I’m not a big fan of Aussie betting companies. At all.  I’d argue they encourage gambling addiction. Add onto this refusal to pay out bets when they set the wrong odds. Plus shutting down successful accounts. Then they go and advertise every commercial break during sporting events. That part I truly hate. It’s like watching gambling ads with sport thrown in from time to time. You’ll get a glimpse of “Please gamble responsibly” at the end of the ad. But it’s a lie. It’s the worst kind of tokenistic gesture. 

It’s in the betting companies interest for you to bet irresponsibly. The more you bet and lose, the more they make. It’s just a case of incentive driving their behaviour.

 “Show me the incentive and I will show you the outcome.”

Gambling by the Numbers in Australia

On a per-person basis, Australia is the gambling capital of the world. Other large gamblers on a per capita basis are Singapore close behind, then Ireland, Finland and the US.

Let’s talk some numbers and ease you into it. These numbers aren’t pretty.

Now admittedly these are averages. So some big fish obviously ruin it for the rest of us. But our average spend still blows most countries out of the water. I’d kill for some median data but alas this is all we have to work with.

Ok so first we’ll look at gambling expenditure (AKA Losses), per person. Then look at turnover (total spend) after.

$64.13 per person is spent just on sports betting yearly. $184.16 is spent on Racing (Horses, Greyhounds etc. And gaming? $1,043.95! Gaming includes sources such as Lotto ($96.22), Casino’s ($264.84) and gaming machines like the pokies ($650.10). Total all gambling per person expenditure every year? $1,292.25. For a grand total of $24 billion as a country each year. Wow.

Standard weekend.

Now let’s look at the insane gambling turnover (or amount spent) per capita.

$602.86 per person is turned over yearly on sports betting. $1,339.68 on Racing. Gaming turnover? Nine thousand, four hundred and nineteen dollars and twenty-two cents! $9,419.22! Gaming includes sources such as Lotto ($237.62), Casino’s ($1,310.25) and gaming machines ($7,764.33).

That last number is honestly depressing. It gives us a grand total of $11,361.77 spent each year on gambling per person on average.

Total turnover as a country each year? 218 billion.

As mentioned the average per capita gambling expenditure for 2017-18 was $1,292.25. But how has this number changed over the years? In 1992-93 it was $458.06. Then $996.38 in 2000-01.

I think it’s fair to say we have a problem.

Gambling and Culture

It plays a large role in our culture. It’s what we talk about around the bbq. Try to watch a game without seeing anything gambling related. It’s everywhere. 

Take this for data. In 2016 on average there were 374 gambling ads daily! Even more insane, is there’s five times the amount of gambling advertisements compared to alcohol ads.

But at least kids don’t see them? Eh, I wish. Two-thirds of these ads were between 6 am and 830 pm. Not exactly exempt from kids eyes. Also on the official AFL’s tipping website it automatically fills out your tips and turns them into a multi bet for you!?

Tipping isn’t something that’s limited to adults. It’s honestly a joke how perverse gambling advertising is.

Thankfully in 2018, restrictions were introduced that gambling ads cannot be played during live sporting events broadcast between 5 am and 8:30 pm, plus five minutes before and after the event. But gambling and its advertising are still bloody everywhere.

Going down to the pub for a feed and to watch the footy? Strong chance there’s TAB machines there. Total gaming machines in Australia at the end of 2019 was 194,322. Almost 1 machine per 100 adults in Australia.

Even on social media, it’s hard to escape. Back when I had Facebook I had hidden them and clicked to not receive any more advertisements from them. Yet still, they kept popping up because mates share Sportsbet’s ass tier memes.

Thank my lucky stars I don’t have a gambling addiction because it’s honestly so hard to escape it.

Gambling and AFL

They’re so intertwined sometimes it feels as if one can’t live without the other. A large source of revenue for a lot of teams comes from the pokies.

As an example, Hawthorn currently pulls in more money from the pokies than any other AFL club. And recently the Hawks stated that they have no plans to end their reliance on pokies revenue. Which is made interesting by the fact their president, Jeff Kennett, is Amtek’s largest shareholder. A company that’s business involves the servicing of poker machines. Jeff Kennett was also chairman of beyond blue, a charity focused on depression, anxiety disorders, and suicide prevention. Because gambling problems never cause depression or anxiety do they?

Adding to this, I found the following comment on /r/AFL:

When he was premier Jeff Kennett approved Crown Casino, the largest pokie venue in Victoria. After he left politics he became chairman of Amtek and they won the Crown Casino maintenance contract. Of course, he doesn’t want Hawthorn to exit pokies. As premier he loved the tax it hauled in and these days he loves the profit. He doesn’t care about any misery they may cause.

Can the clubs go cold turkey and get rid of pokies and gambling sponsorship completely? Probably not. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be questioned. I don’t have the answers to solve this situation. But I know it doesn’t sit right.

Who Gambles?

Men make up 49% of Australia’s population, yet made up 54% of gamblers in 2015. It’s even more concentrated when you focus on sports betting. 88% of people who bet on sports are men. 88%! Also are of those who bet on sports, 75% of those are aged between 18-49. 

I believe gambling losses come from people who are the least able to afford it. In 2015, mean gambling expenditure was significantly higher than average among gamblers who were male, had completed schooling no further than year 10, single, and lived with multiple adults. You can picture it. A couple of single mates living together all having a cheeky punt on weekends.

Conversely, mean gambling expenditure was lower amongst those gamblers who possessed a university degree and lived in a house with children. 

Gambling Addiction

So you admit you have a problem. What can you do? You can often self exclude yourself from companies, or put a lock on your accounts. But sometimes, these self exclusions are ignored. Punters with the bookie PlayUp had asked to be self-excluded as they felt they had a gambling problem. The option for self-exclusion is part of  the code of conduct for online bookmakers in NT (where PlayUp operates). But then the self-excluded bettors get a message offering bets. Just what the doctor ordered!

Who are the Companies?

And how did they get so big? A key turning point was the 2008 High Court decision. The High Court determined it was unconstitutional to prohibit interstate operations by gambling operators. This had the follow on effect of online gambling business licensed in small jurisdictions (notably the Northern Territory) could expand their operations into states where they were not licensed.

Thus resulting in a mad rush for market share. Giving us the largest, constant, in your face sponsorship and advertising we’ve since seen.

I’ll give a short history and rundown of some of the largest sports betting companies around in Australia today. 

Sportsbet

Probably the most well known, and hence most annoying. In my opinion the worst of the lot for pushing blokey, /r/fellowkids types memes down our throats.

Back in 2005, Matthew Tripp bought Sportsbet for $250,000. At the time Sportsbet was a small bookmaker based in the Northern Territory (as a lot of Aussie bookmakers are for tax reasons).

Between January 2013 and June 2018, Sportsbet spent near on $500 million on marketing and promotion. Recently promotional spend has averaged over $100 million per year. 

TAB

AKA the local. Hundreds of physical locations where you can place bets and watch racing. Also, a tonne of pubs and clubs have TAB machines where you can bet on. They have an app but I don’t know any mates that use them on the app. Plenty of mates bet on their machines though and always have the TAB betting slips in their wallets.

Ladbrokes

Funny name for a betting company I know. Making lads go broke. Classic gag. But another thin-skinned bookie notorious for getting its knickers in a knot when punters use their specials.

Beating the Bookies?

The worst part of it is that you just can’t win in the long term. Bookies will take your money and encourage addiction, but heaven forbid you beat them at their own game.

BuT ThEy’Re A pRiVaTe CoMpAnY, tHeY cAn Do WhAt ThEy WaNt.

I agree 100%. But Jesus your model revolves around setting odds on markets and taking bets on that. The whole point is to take a cut of total bets. Hence when you bet the line it might be $1.89 each way. And if one side is loaded, then the line moves to entice the other side. 

But to take a cut of total bets isn’t enough profit for them. If you’re consistently winning, they’ll just shut down your account instead. Or if you’re lucky they limit your account to $20 bets. 

But for example with Sportsbet, no matter how much shady shit they pull, they post funny memes so that must mean they’re a cool company right? /s

Now I know I’ve been bagging out gambling companies, so how can you beat them at their own game? I really debated whether I should put this section in because it could be seen as promoting gambling. But stuff it, if you’re going to gamble this post won’t stop you. And if you don’t gamble this post won’t convince you. So if you do fancy the punt, try and take as much off them as possible. 🙂

You have to have your own defined edge.

It could be knowing esports way better than the companies do. Initially, this was a good one but have been harder recently. Having better access to information than others. Doing due diligence and better quality research. Having algorithms. The list goes on. Mine was taking advantage of loopholes and specials where possible. But this had the downside of flirting with fire because betting companies are temperamental like teenagers and their rules change as the wind blows. 

One strategy I liked was taking advantage of ‘dumb’ money. Conor McGregor vs Floyd Mayweather was the best example of this. Don’t know what people were thinking but the general public thought Conor was in with a chance when you looked at the facts, looked mental to even think he’d get close. Mayweather vs McGregor was the biggest steal in the history of sports betting and I was glad to have been able to take advantage of it.

When a well known public figure is outmatched but is relying on a bit of star power, that can be your edge. Other examples would have been Rousey vs Nunes, McGregor vs Nurmagomedov and against CM Punk in his short-lived UFC career.

Here’s another comment I found on Reddit:

Kind of morbid, but Marlins vs Mets were -110 their first game after Jose Fernandez died. The entire team was wearing his jersey and Bartolo Colon was serving up meatballs to their batters. The Marlins players were legitimately crying in the field, there was no way the Mets were going to beat them that day, It was 5-0 after 2 innings” 

Make of it what you will.

I no longer bet, part frustration with the companies, part wanting to save money, be responsible and would rather invest. But best of luck if you choose to go down the rabbit hole. 

Personal Anecdote

In my case, I had two sports betting accounts. Bookie #1 to take advantage of betting specials and Bookie #2 to arbitrage with. Bookie #1 often gave out decent specials. For example, a $1.20 favourite ($1 bet to earn $1.20), but offered them at $2 for a max bet of $50. So I’d max that offer. Then go to Bookie #2 and bet on the opposing team at ~$2.40ish sometimes higher odds. Now I modelled all this out in Excel so I knew how much the potential profit would be for either outcome. But the key was not to bet specific amounts that draw attention like $32.67. Keep it to round numbers and claim stupidity if anyone asked was my plan.

There’s been 158 draws out of 15,614 games. So a measly 1.01% chance at a draw. They only usually offer ~$51 for a draw. I’m willing to take that risk. Besides, I watch the games I bet on, so if it is a draw, it’ll be a bloody good game to watch anyway. I’m only betting $100 total at a time anyway so a black swan event ain’t gonna blow me up.

I did this for maybe two months. Pocketed a handy couple hundred bucks for not much effort before Bookie #1 grew a stick up their arse. Told me in no uncertain terms that I was abusing their specials offered. And that if I didn’t start betting on other events they would limit/close my account.
Why offer specials in the first place to me then? If they offer it, of course, I’m going to take advantage of it. They already limited the max bet on it so it wasn’t like I was robbing them dry. I would have been a drop in the ocean for them. But god forbid anyone beat them at their own game or take away their potential profit they suck from problem gamblers.

My Perfect Sports Betting Company?

What would I do if I owned and ran a company? What would it look like? How would it operate? Well, I’m going to have a crack at describing my ideal gambling company.

  • Limit Advertising: And if I have to? I’m sure as hell not advertising at times or places kids are exposed to it. And no in your face, blokey bloke type advertising either. That’s been done to death.
  • Exotic Bets: What’s an exotic bet? Basically a strange bet. Which is usually a super-specific in-game bet. Like how many runs off the 3rd over of a test match. High risk yet also high reward. I don’t mind exotic bets. As long as they’re a) Paid out because bookies love making up a reason why they shouldn’t pay out a high paying bet. And b) scrutinised who and how much is bet on exotics as they are prone to match-fixing.
  • Accounts: Make it easy for self-exclusion. Easy to set up Daily, Weekly and Monthly betting limits. A lot of this is hidden deep in account settings. Bring it to the forefront. Make it simple and available for those most at risk (which I guarantee betting companies would have an idea of).
  • Voiding Bets: Just pay punters out. How much is it really going to cost the company in the long run?
  • Focus on certain sports: I hate how betting companies offer every market under the bloody sun but then get pissy when bettors exploit inefficiencies in under-researched markets. Why offer in the first place then!? Stick with what you know and in your circle of competence

Online Gambling Galore but no Online Poker

I can bet on the bloody Under 19 New Caledonian Ping Pong team to lose in straight sets but noooo, online poker is off-limits. Reason being? Well, there’s no singular reason but a couple of good ideas that have been floating around. More or less comes down to current parties with vested interests blocking competition.

I’m sorry but online poker shits all over irl poker in my opinion. You get to play at much lower minimums compared to live poker. Opening the game up for a larger number of people. Including myself. The games are way faster as well. Online poker is quick, timed and gets on with it. Live poker feels like playing a little and watching paint dry 90% of the time.  

Casinos and their live poker rooms (of which they obviously take a cut) have opposed online poker. Also, resistance comes from the local pub and club scene who host the National Poker League and Australian Poker League games.

Trying to limit or ban online poker is an incredible financial incentive for the local pubs and clubs hosting local games who not only make money from the buy-ins but from the drinks and extras made throughout the game.

Also, taxation problems from a government standpoint is a hurdle. Online poker rooms are harder to regulate and tax than physical locations. Note that this tax only applies to companies though and not individual bettors. In Australia, gambling winnings are not taxed like in the US. Which sounds crazy to me. As if it isn’t hard enough already to beat the bookies!

I got interested in poker thanks to online poker. I don’t really have any real desire to play live. Feel free to convince me why I should try irl poker though. But I’m an internet kid. I have a short attention span.  I’d love to play online poker on a Friday night for a $20 buy-in and just kill time. But that’s Australia for you.

Peak Degenerate Moment?

Just a bit of a fun story about my punting adventures. And who doesn’t love a royal wedding? Even the bookies and degens betting have an interest. So for a laugh, I was looking through their offerings. The usual. Colour of the queen’s hat, who would attend etc. But one caught my eye. 

Would Thomas Markle attend his daughter’s wedding? No for $1.10. Well, only 30 minutes prior I had just read that he had a heart attack. How the hell could you fly from the US to London for a Royal Wedding, with all that stress, just after a heart attack?

So I max bet that one for all I could (unfortunately max bet of $100). 

But well and truly the easiest $10 I’ve made in my life. So far.

Summary

I’m hoping I’ve given a half-decent rundown of the gambling scene here in Australia. I’m interested to do more research on what it’s like in other countries. Particularly the US. Especially after the recently changed laws, I’ll be following closely the flow-on effects.

Also if you’re going to bet, maybe avoid the companies. Aim for a betting exchange where at least you’re up against fellow bettors. That way you won’t get shafted. As much.

I have not been sponsored or am in any way affiliated with any betting companies just FYI

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