Australia & Gambling: A Brief History


Gambling is a globally enjoyed pastime, and in fact, it has been incredibly popular for centuries. In Australia, gambling is immensely prevalent, with the majority of adults indulging in one form or another; this is precisely why Australia is largely regarded as the unofficial gambling capital of the world. Gambling has become ingrained in Australian culture. The question is, how did this happen? Where did it all start? Let’s find out. 

The Beginning – 1788

The history of gambling in Australia finds its origins all the way back in 1788. This is when European settlers first began to find a home in what is today known as New South Wales. Gambling really started as soon as the settlers arrived; they brought it with them. Of course, they weren’t bringing slot machines with them. Gambling was a lot more rudimentary—one of the most popular games involved flipping two coins and betting on the outcome. 

This game, known as two-up, is still played today, mainly on Anzac Day. This tradition began in WW1 when diggers would play constantly – despite the fact that it was illegal to do so. After the war, in commemoration, Australians were unofficially allowed to play this and a few other gambling games on Anzac Day. Funnily enough, two-up is still illegal to play on any given day except Anzac Day and if you play a table version either online or at a traditional casino. 

The 1800s – Horse Racing & Reforms

From the first European settlers arriving and bringing their rudimentary gambling games with them, it then took just over twenty years for Australia to hold its first official gambling event. In 1810, Governor Macquarie held a horse race in Hyde Park, and in doing so, history was made. Horse racing continues to be one of the favourite betting pastimes of the Australian population. In the next few decades, horse racing events became a lot more popular, with races held across Australia.

Horse races
Australia & Gambling: A Brief History

Then the gold rush then took ahold, and with this growth in wealth, there was also a rapid growth in the number of bookies in Australia. This presented a few problems to the authorities. Gambling was getting out of control, and developing and imposing regulations was a necessity. The Jockey Club, Australian Rules of Racing and Principle Clubs were all founded to tackle these issues. Lastly, in the 1880s, George Adams began to offer sweepstakes for the Sidney Cup, and while they were quickly banned in a few places, they saw much success in others, and it is credited with being the pioneer, paving the way for the Golden Casket Lottery. 

The 1900s – the Lottery and the Construction of Casinos

The lottery in Australia was first initiated in an official capacity during the first world war. As mentioned above, it did build upon the sweepstakes created by George Adams, although it did take a while for them to evolve. The lottery was first intended to raise money for returning veterans, and actually, throughout the years, the Golden Casket Lottery has helped a number of different causes too. 

Crumpled lottery tickets and empty purse as symbol of losing the lottery game
Australia & Gambling: A Brief History

In the mid-nineteen-hundreds, a company called Aristocrat first introduced slot machines or pokies to Australia. This happened in 1953, and New South Wales legalised them a year later. Pokies then slowly started to find themselves in more and more clubs and pubs. This is, in part, what catapulted gambling in Australia into the stratosphere and began to ensure that it became ingrained in the culture itself. Obviously, when they first emerged, they were indeed pretty low-tech, but they were embraced nonetheless, and today, of course, they have become a little more hi-tech. 

In 1973, after years of pushback, Tasmania decided to build and open the first legal casino in the entire country. For the first time ever, Australians could play legally, out in the open. This made the Wrest Point Casino the place to be.

Casino Canberra
Australia & Gambling: A Brief History

After having seen the boost that the casino made to the local economy and how transformative it was, other states started to follow suit, and in the next ten to fifteen years, casinos began to crop up all over the place. Victoria was the last holdout, and the gambling ban there was not overturned until 1991; the Casino Control Act followed, and the Crown Casino was completed a few years later to become the biggest gambling complex in the Southern Hemisphere, quite the accomplishment for the area that dragged its feet the longest in legalising gambling. 

 Recent History, the 90s to Now – Online Gambling

The next big thing to happen was, of course, the internet and the creation of online gambling. This was another pivotal moment in Australian gambling history. Now, the Australian government has always been wary of gambling, as evidenced above, and so they were aware of the potential pitfalls and dangers. This is why the Interactive Gambling Act was developed and passed in the early two-thousands. It was designed to protect players, and it has. 

Today, online gambling is immensely popular; it has all but taken over. There are so many different sites and games available to play, and they do come in all shapes, sizes and iterations. Truly there is something for every player. Now, there are a couple of snags, mostly in the banking methods offered and the lack of certain games, but for the most part, these are small issues in an otherwise accessible landscape. Getting started can be challenging, but luckily, there are sites like WhereGamble which lists the best online casinos in Australia.

Online Poker Basics & Rules for First Timers
Australia & Gambling: A Brief History

Online poker games and variations of them continue to be some of the most popular forms of online gambling games. This is likely because of the long-held popularity and sentimentality of the public in terms of their fondness for pokies. However, they are a little different. Pokies rely on a random number generator, and they have a fixed return to player percentage. Online poker games, conversely, are not as random, and players in the know can spot patterns accessing bigger bonuses and payouts. 

Lastly, while sports betting started way way back in the early nineteenth century with horse racing, today, you can bet on pretty much any sport. Football is one of the most popular sports to bet on, but there is also cricket, tennis, rugby and even golf. Online gambling and betting on sports, specifically, is easier than ever before now, thanks to the internet. Bettors can place their bets from their smartphones or other devices; they don’t even need to go to a bookies anymore. Betting and sports are so closely related that a lot of leagues, teams and matches are sponsored by or partner with online betting sites to encourage fans to support their favourite teams and players by making a bet. 

To Sum Up

The gambling industry in Australia makes billions of dollars every year, which is, in part, what makes Australia the *unofficial* gambling capital of the world. It is so deeply entrenched in daily life and the Australian culture as a whole that you would be hard-pressed to find an adult in Australia who doesn’t enjoy placing a bet or gambling every now and then. From its humble beginnings as a few rudimentary games brought over by the European settlers to making billions in revenue from online casinos and annual sporting events, gambling in Australia has come a long way, and it isn’t going anywhere.

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