The History of Gambling in Australia

Gambling in Australia has been going on for centuries, just like it has in many other parts of the world. However, organised sport and gaming has a much longer history here than most so it’s relatively easy to track the growth of betting across the country.

Australia’s first recognised horse race meeting took place at Hyde Park in Sydney in 1810 while the country’s first official lottery was run in Sydney again a year later. Over the years, gambling has been highly regulated but how did it grow from those early arrangements and how do Aussies enjoy a bet in a country where the practise has always been highly regulated?

Early Days

Settlers from around Europe brought their traditional games with them as they arrived in the country throughout the course of the 18th century. Dice and card games were prevalent and wagers between individuals and groups of friends were commonplace.

This is, essentially, how gambling started in all parts of the world; there was no license involved but because this was an isolated practise between individuals and groups of friends, there was no need for it to be regulated.

From this point, the practise grew with horse racing becoming more popular as the British settlers introduced it to the locals.

Sports Betting

Horse racing, in a very loose, unorganised form, became very prevalent in Australia from the days of those early settlers but, in such a vast land, there were isolated pockets and the area around Sydney became very much a focal point. Taking bets became part of the sport as it developed until that very first official horse meeting took place in 1810.

Other sports came along from abroad while the country developed its own unique pastimes such as Aussie Rules. While the government issued the first nationwide lottery in 1920, licensed betting shops were much rarer than they were in many countries around the world and when a bet was placed, it tended to be at the event, particularly track-side at the many horse race meetings that were now taking place throughout Australia.

Sports betting has been revolutionised with the advent of online gambling and horse racing remains a very popular market for Australians while soccer, rugby, cricket, tennis and, of course, Aussie Rules are also favoured among the betting community here.

The First Casino

A measure of the stiff regulations regarding betting is highlighted by the fact that the first casino in Australia didn’t arrive in the country until 1973. The Wrest Point Hotel Casino opened its doors in February of that year in the relatively isolated location of Sandy Bay in Hobart and, although it was successful from the start, there hasn’t exactly been a boom in physical casino growth since that date.

The government has just given the go ahead for a new casino to be built –Crown Sydney which is due to open in 2019 but even at that point, there will be less than 20 bricks and mortar establishments across the whole of Australia.

The Pokies

No Summary of betting in Australia would be complete without a reference to the ‘pokies’; slot machines that can be found along the length of the entire country. These machines are based on poker hands and can be found in bars in every town and city.

It’s estimated that over 200,000 of these machines can be found across Australia and in the present day, they generate revenue in excess of 19 Billion AUD.

The history of the Pokie can be traced back to 1953 when the first Australian slot machine was developed by the Aristocrat Company. In 1956, the New South Wales government allowed gaming in certain licensed clubs and the first pokie duly arrived.

Some 60 years later, over half of the pokie machines in Australia are resident in New South Wales with an obviously high concentration in Sydney. They are rather specific to the country although they have crossed the Tasman where some 19,000 machines can be found in New Zealand.

Pokies have also been adopted by the big casinos so you can play them in the bricks and mortar establishments while online versions of the game have been around since the middle of the 2000’s. They are simply a phenomenon with a long history and are set to grow in popularity, even though online sports betting is the main growth area across the country.

Going Online

Many traditional sportsbooks were slow to realise the potential of the internet as it began to grow through the 1990’s but that allowed a number of smaller operators to come in and build their share of a new market. The first online bookmaker was set up in 1996 and many names followed that have since become very familiar to Australian punters.

As the trend continued to rise, the government felt compelled to act and as a result, the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 was passed in June of that year. There are many aspects to the law, one of which prohibits any advertising to Australian citizens, but it certainly doesn’t outlaw the practise altogether.

Australian citizens are free to access licensed online bookmakers and stake on real money sports but there are restrictions for the operators and that means that a restricted list of potential bookies is made available to Aussie nationals.

The internet, despite the fact that the Act of 2001 makes it hard for companies to set up here, has seen a boom in betting interest in a little over 20 years and the future looks like it will continue in a similar fashion.

Online betting is sure to increase while there should be a slower growth in the number of operators obtaining a license here. In the physical world, the new casino in Sydney 2019 shows that steady growth will continue in this area too.

Overall, the future of Australian gambling will remain regulated but equally certain is that interest will continue to build around the length and breadth of this vast country.