Gambling in Australia and Pubs

I’m quite shocked that it’s taken me this long to write about Australia and gambling. From my very first holiday here in Australia, I remember seeing a sign and saying…

“What on earth does that mean?”


Image Courtesy of  lozzc

Having searched Google images for the above picture, I can tell you that elsewhere around the world, it turns out “pokies” means something completely different. I honestly didn’t know. Moving on….

By contrast, here in Australia, pokies are a most unpleasant blemish on Australian society. Because here, pokies is short for “poker”, or rather poker machines.

In my day, especially having grown up in Southend with its “Golden Mile” of amusement arcades, they were called one armed bandits.

You know, bandits, as in Dick Turpin and “give me all your money!”

What surprised me about those pokies signs from my holiday in Oz from way back when, was they all seem to be displayed with pride outside many of the pubs here. So I thought pokies were some sort of upgrade to the lounge bar. Maybe it had music, dancing, posh armchairs and perhaps a backgammon table or two?

But no, just the one armed bandits.

For me, pubs represent a place to meet people, have a chat and, of course, have a few drinks.

Here, many of them double as gambling dens. Because most pubs, but thankfully not all, have gambling licences allowing for separate pokies rooms full of pokies machines.

It gets worse.

Many pubs also have “Keno”, best described as a never-ending lottery draw. And on top of that, betting offices with TVs showing live racing. You place your bets right next to the same bar you buy your beers from.

pub and pokiesLet’s sum that up. Many pubs contain:

  • Lots of Alcohol.
  • A betting office.
  • Continuous lotteries.
  • One armed bandits.

How bad a problem is it?

I managed to locate a PDF document issued by the Australian Government all about Australian gambling statistics. On a summary table, it details total gambling turnover in Australia in 2008-09. Here’s the breakdown:

Total spend on gambling in Australia $161,193 Million.

Their figures come from several ways of gambling, they break it down into 18 areas. Three of those areas are TAB, Gaming Machines and Keno. It is these 3 that, generally speaking, are available in pubs, clubs and RSL’s in Australia.

Income from just those three are:

  • TAB – $13,383M
  • Gaming Machines – $114,118M
  • Keno – $973M
  • Total – $128,474 million

But don’t panic, that’s income. People do win money back on occasions. That’s what makes them keep gambling, the hope. These figures are the true cost to the gamblers:

Total gambling expenditure in Australia $19,039 Million.

Losses from our three are:

  • TAB – $2,216M
  • Gaming Machines – $10,468M
  • Keno – $260M
  • Total – $12,944 million.

That’s still a lot of money for a country with around 20 million people, the vast majority of whom do not gamble.

The taxes raised from these forms of gambling generate more income for the government than car registrations, and the income from them helps to keep many of those pubs and clubs in profit.

Good for them, but obviously gambling and alcohol do not mix. Many lives are being destroyed. Fortunately, most of the toilets in these pubs display posters warning of the dangers of gambling and offering telephone helplines.

Well, that’s all right then!

Gambling in Australia is very much an Australian bad thing.


You can read more about those figures by visiting the government’s webpage about Aussie gambling statistics.
I think I have interpreted the “turnover” and “expenditure” figures correctly, but the explanation didn’t explain anything as far as I can see. If I have made any incorrect assumptions, I apologise and if anyone knows more, please comment below.

But first, go on! Just stick one coin in. You never know your luck……

Dick Turpin


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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Deano November 17, 2011, 10:52 pm |

    I’ve had a gambling problem for a while now and I think gambling is a temtation like any other. I can’t beleve that all the Goverenment can do is try to cover their asses with lame posters and messages when they take revenue off the blimming things.

    • BobinOz November 19, 2011, 3:20 pm |

      When I was 18, living in England, I went to work for a betting office. I worked for them for nine years as a manager and settler, as it was called. Basically, I worked out how much money people got back (or didn’t) on each bet. I would see people come in and lose money they couldn’t afford to lose all day and every day.

      And at the end of the day, I would have a big pile of losers, and a tiny pile of “winners”. But most of those winners were losers too, because the money they got back was less than they invested.

      So I learnt early that gambling does not pay.

      I hope you manage to find a way to resist your temptations Deano, you will be much richer for it. But don’t rely on those posters to help you out.

      Good luck mate!

  • Michael June 27, 2011, 7:13 am |

    Hey there, Well done on a great website here Bob! I am a local who stumbled onto it and find it a rather interesting read =)
    I actually work in a pub (gambling den) part time here in Sydney and I can tell you guys it’s just the done thing in these places to remove your hat due to security reasons. Because of the aforementioned gambling, there is a LOT of money flying around and pubs/clubs are a big target for hold ups etc.

    May I add you guys are spot on about the gambling problems – I loathe the pokies!

    • Rupert June 27, 2011, 8:26 am |

      Hi Michael, welcome. My mate works in a pub/gambling den in Albury Wodonga and he tells me the same thing. It’s expected I suppose and there’s no use arguing with authority.

      I am happy to say that when I move to Sydney next year I will seek out a quiet and civilised wine bar where they care less about what’s ON my head and more about what’s IN it!

      • BobinOz June 28, 2011, 3:09 pm |

        Hi Michael and Rupert

        Well, I have learnt something here myself. I have never come across the problem, but then I do not wear a cap. I would certainly recommend trying to find a bar that does not have pokies in it if you can. But pubs are not everywhere like they are in England, so you may have to settle for what you have got.

        My suburb doesn’t even have a pub! But we do have a club with beer 🙂

  • CathB June 12, 2011, 7:10 pm |

    Rupert, why are you wearing a cap inside? My mother taught me to take my hat off when going inside…

    • Rupert June 12, 2011, 9:10 pm |

      Well, that’s quite interesting. I wear a cap as a fashionable article of clothing to cover my balding pate and to make a statement. I am very well dressed and I find my funky collection of hats have been quite inoffensive to anybody in the UK or anywhere else in Europe.

      I would, of course, remove my cap in a place of worship, and while sitting down to dinner, but we’re talking about a pub. Men have been wearing hats in pubs always. A pub is not a church!

      What annoyed me was that I was asked to remove my hat for ‘security’ reasons. If the reason was such that it might offend an older generation who would consider it ill-mannered and inappropriate to wear a hat indoors, I would have removed it immediately with a smile and a polite “Of course, my apologies.”

      By the way, mothers can be wrong you know? ;- )

    • BobinOz June 14, 2011, 12:23 am |

      CathB: That may well be the case, but your mum didn’t teach Rupert to take his hat off when going inside, did she? Otherwise we wouldn’t be in this mess, would we?

      Rupert: My mum taught me to always throw a small amount of the spilt salt over my left shoulder if ever I were to knock the pot over. To this day, I’m not sure that she was right about that one. But is CathB’s mum right?

      Lets have a cap debate! I’ll start. Here we go….

      I think you have the right to wear your cap in a bar if you so choose.

  • Rupert June 9, 2011, 8:03 pm |

    I was shocked when, in Alice Springs, our host took us to a hotel bar with all these pokie machines everywhere. At most of them sat elderly aboriginals mindlessly putting coins in the slot and repeatedly tapping a button in a zombie-like state.

    A security bloke came up to me as I was wandering around thinking how horrible the place was and asked me to remove my cap. I asked him why and he told me the security cameras couldn’t see me face. Being a rebel without applause, and feeling somewhat depressed by the whole experience, we all left.

    Similarly on the Sunshine Coast, in a Surf Club, I was asked to remove my cap. I found it strange that, while surrounded by drinking and gambling and Keno and loud footie on the TV, that their main beef with me was that, while I was well-dressed and acting ‘responsibly’, I was wearing a cap, which was against the rules of the establishment. The reason, yet again – “security mate”.

    I shall stick to wine bars and cafes to meet people and have a chat. I may not like Surf Clubs and RSLs very much, but the coffee in Oz is the best in the world! (And the wine is pretty bloody good too.)

    • BobinOz June 10, 2011, 10:16 pm |

      Sorry mate, but can you take your cap off before leaving a comment here? It’s security!

      Joking aside, your description of pokies is spot on. Shovelling money trancelike into machine. Crazy!

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