Our nation’s gambling addiction has deepened with average net losses borne by each adult member of the population climbing to $1242 in 2015.
New national data published by the Queensland government this month shows that total net losses rose 7.7 per cent to $22.73 billion in the 12 months to the end of June last year, driven by massive growth in online sports betting and casino gaming.
New South Wales is the country’s biggest consumer market for gambling, with average losses per head of population rising more than $100 to $1517.
Victoria was the second-highest gambling state with per capita losses rising by around $85 to $1250, although gamblers burnt cash at a slower rate than their NSW counterparts.
Evaluating the depth of the gambling problem in each state is complicated given many online sports betting providers are based in the Northern Territory where most bets are received from gamblers in other states.
Another world record?
For more than a decade Australia has ranked among the biggest gambling nations in the world.
The latest gambling data is likely to fortify Australia’s leadership, which according to several studies is already double that of the next heaviest gambling location, Hong Kong.
A study of global gambling trends by the London-based Global Betting and Gaming Consultants found that Australians gambled on average $US866 in 2013 compared to $US485 for Hong Kong residents.
Dr Piers Howe, a cognitive scientist at the University of Melbourne, believes Australians are among the heaviest punters on the planet on a per capita basis, and are probably the biggest.
“As gambling becomes more popular it has less of a social stigma and it might be that social norms around gambling have made it more acceptable.”
While sports betting is now the fastest-growing segment of the gambling market, poker machines still account for more than half of all gambling losses in Australia.
In 2015, Australians lost $11.58 billion on pokies, a rise of almost five per cent.
The most lucrative locations for poker machine operators in all states are low-income suburbs in the major capital cities.
Data collated by the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing shows that pokies venues in the suburb of Fairfield collected net revenue of $1.2 billion in 2015.
The trend is similar in other cities, where disadvantaged suburbs are delivering the biggest returns to the operators of pokies venues.
Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie called on the Turnbull government to crack down on the marketing of gambling products.
“States and territories might claim that current harm minimisation measures are working,” he said.
“But that’s obviously nonsense because people are still losing billions and billions of dollars.”
Mr Wilkie said the government could introduce more effective harm minimisation measures such as $1 maximum bets for pokies.
“It’s easy to look at the release of these figures today as just statistics but let’s not forget that every dollar of ‘gambling expenditure’ comes from a real person and much of this from problem gamblers,” he said.
The biggest beneficiaries from our national fixation are big ASX-listed gaming and casino operators and the state governments.
James Packer’s listed casino business, Crown Resorts, raked in a net profit of more than $400 million for the year to the end of June, on the back of solid returns from flagship casinos in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
Packer also owns the local operations of online sports gaming provider Betfair, which is benefitting from the digital gambling boom.
Woolworths is another big winner through its hotel joint venture with national pokies king, Bruce Mathieson.
Woolies generated around $300 million in pre-tax profit from its 75 per cent stake in the joint venture last year, most of which is believed to have come from poker machines.
Scratchies and lotto specialist, Tatts Ltd, harvests annual profits of more than $233 million.
Tatts is also a prominent player in the online sports betting market through its subsidiary, Ubet.
“People are still losing billions and billions of dollars.”
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie
Star Entertainment Group, the operator of several casinos including Jupiters on the Gold Coast, boosted its net profit last year by 58 per cent to $172 million.
While online sports betting is the fastest-growing segment of the gambling industry, it is not yet as profitable as pokies and casinos.
According to disclosure made to UK regulators, William Hill Australia suffered a 45 per cent decline in net earnings in 2015 to around $26 million.
Ladbrokes reported a net profit of only $5 million from its Australian business.
State governments have enjoyed booming revenues from poker machines and lotteries over the last 20 years, with the NSW government collecting $1.9 billion in 2015.
Tax revenue flowing to other state governments from poker machines and lotteries were as follows:
Victoria $1.56 billion
Qld $1.07 billion
SA $285 million
WA $393 million
TAS $80 million
ACT $50 million
NT $58 million