A nation of gamblers

There’s a Heckler in the SMH today about how boring the Melbourne Cup is. Even though I have zero interest in the race, I find it quite a fun work interruption.

One Tuesday in November, we all down tools, wander into the tearoom to watch TV for about 15 minutes, and eat stuff (occasionally drink alcohol, depending on the workplace).  The more quirky amongst us also wear a silly hat (this year my workplace had a low quirk factor). It’s better than actually being in Melbourne, where they get the day off. We just get a relaxed day in the office with not much done in the afternoon. Today, for me, it mean that there were no boring meetings scheduled all afternoon – who would dare schedule a meeting on Melbourne Cup afternoon?

But there is a darker side. While I was there, I was chatting to a friend who lives and works in Hong Kong. She expressed surprise when I said Australians are the biggest gamblers in the world per capita (not a statistic I managed to prove or disprove in a quick google search). Hong Kong Chinese pride themselves on their gambling habits too.

Per capita, in 1996-7, Australians spent 3% of household disposable income on gambling  – $736. In 2004-5, that had increased to $996 per capita. That’s the amount we actually lost per capita – to lose that much you generally bet 5-10 times as much (depending on what game you play). According to this book, 2.1% of the Australian population is estimated to have a gambling problem. A frighteningly high number.

The parents of one of Chatterboy’s closest friends broke up a couple of years ago, in part because of his problem gambling. The biggest frauds at my place of work (a financial services company) have been addicted gamblers who then gambled all the money away.

But to me, the Melbourne Cup transcends all that. It’s a festival, vaguely associated with a horse race, where everyone gets the excuse to dress up in a silly hat, blow some money on an office sweep, and yell at a television for three minutes once a year.

  3 comments for “A nation of gamblers

  1. JenniferV
    November 7, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    Sobering. There has just been a marriage break-up in my extended family over a $40,000 debt that has been fed through poker machines. But I agree that the Melbourne Cup is a festival for once-a-year punters (like me and all the other mugs crowding our local TAB this morning) and thus quite distinct from problem gambling – although I always do have a twinge of guilt each year when the nightly news anounces how much was spent on Cup betting (it was about $56M in NSW alone today) and think about the schools, hospitals, roads etc that that amount of money could build.

  2. November 7, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    The purely festive aspects of Melbourne Cup Day can indeed be fun, but like you penguin I also knew a couple of people done for fraud in a financial services corporation where it ultimately came down to gambling addictions. Nasty and sad all around. Kinda jaundices one.

  3. November 8, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    Jennifer,
    While $56m was spent, much of that was recycled into the community – a large amount through payouts to the winning punters, another amount in taxes (some question on the utility of that) and then some to pay for the betting operation. To the extent that the money spent on the betting operation could have been better spent this is the only true loss in the mix – with the exception of the losses to the compulsive gamblers, their families and the others affected.
    It is difficult to know what to do about fraud, other than trying to catch it as early as possible. The earlier it is caught the lighter the sentence, minimising the disruption. Keeping a discreet eye out for your friends and associates would also be helpful – try to help them before it gets to be so serious problem they do commit fraud. As it tends to be a compulsion, though, and one they do not admit to themselves, this may be a difficult subject to broach.

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