Gambling Under the Microscope

Gains Overstated, Losses Hidden

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Last week, London hosted the ICE Total Gaming Conference and Exhibition near Canary Wharf.

Coinciding with the event, H2 Gambling Capital, a British company that describes itself as “the gambling industry’s leading consulting, market intelligence and data team,” published a report with the latest statistics on gambling around the world.

According to a summary of the report published by the Australian Associated Press the annual per capita gambling loss averages in the country total $1,144, for an annual total of $21.5bn. The majority of the gambling is done on poker machines and Australia is in first place in the world for gambling per person.

According to the report Monash University gambling researcher Dr Charles Livingstone said that Australia has the highest concentration of poker machines in the world.

He also noted that the biggest concentration of the poker machines are in economically disadvantaged areas.

Independent federal senator Nick Xenophon said the figures were an «urgent wake-up call» for politicians, and, he added, 40% of the losses came from problem gamblers. Xenophon is continuing to lobby for a maximum bet of one dollar on poker machines, together with an hourly cap on overall losses.

(While Australia has the highest gambling losses per person, the United States, with a much larger population, has the highest absolute losses, with annual gambling losses of $136bn.)

New casino

Gambling is very much in the news in Australia, with the approval of a second casino in Sydney in the final stages.

There have been some attempts to limit gambling losses, with the Australian state of Victoria introducing last year a ban on ATMs in gaming venues. Victoria’s Gaming Minister Michael O’Brien said that six months after the move there had been a 6.7% drop in the amount of money being spent on poker machines, the ABC reported on Dec. 2.

Then, on Dec. 11, Australia, reported that in the year ending in September spending on poker machines dropped from $A11.2 to $A10.2bn. Nevertheless, spending via online gambling went up $110m.

The good news did not last, however, with Melbourne’s Age newspaper reporting on Jan. 27 that losses on poker machines in Victoria were rising again, after the initial decline following the ban on ATMs.

Australia is, of course, far from being the only country where there are serious concerns over the level of gambling. On Dec. 4, London’s Telegraph newspaper said that Britons had gambled 46 billion pounds on betting terminals in the past year, being an increase of almost 50% in the last four years.

Players can choose from a variety of games on these betting machines, and according to the article profits for betting shops are significantly up, by 7% compared to the previous year and 47% higher than in 2009.

Turning to the United States, online gambling is an area that has seen rapid growth and according to a Feb. 5 article in the Washington Post up to 10 states in America this year will consider legislation to legalize this form of gambling.

Eight states considered such bills in 2013, but only two, Nevada and New Jersey, approved them.


When it comes to more traditional forms of gambling, in a recent article published on Jan. 31 in the Tallahassee Democrat, David Blankenhorn, president of the New York-based think tank Institute for American Values, said that slot machines are “a loser.”

Slot machines, the American equivalent of Australia’s poker machines, now account for 70% of all revenue in America’s casinos, he said.

Florida is considering expanding the number of slot machines and Blankenhorn advised against such a move, pointing out that they are designed to encourage addictive behavior.

“No steady player has ever beaten, or will ever beat, a slot machine — all they do is take your money,” he commented.

The addictive nature of slot machines was described in a July 6 article published last year in the Washington Post. The machines use positive sound effects to entice players, even when they have suffered a partial loss.

Behavioral neuroscientist Michael J. Dixon, of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, explained that through a study of the design and computer algorithms in slot machines they found that they encourage irrational behavior and give players an illusion of control.

On Jan. 27, Paul Davies, a fellow at the Institute for American Values, wrote in the Tampa Bay Times that people should not be led astray by promises that more gambling will bring about economic benefits for the state.

He noted that in Illinois, the state’s 10 casinos employ 7,828 people, at the same time the state Gaming Board said 9,957 problem gamblers placed their name on a list that prohibits them from entering a casino. “In other words, the casinos have helped create more gambling addicts than jobs,” he said.

As countries consider whether to further expand gambling they would do well to consider all the downsides of further encouraging the already considerable opportunities for people to lose their money.

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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