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.