Australia is the gambling capital of the western world, where punters spend more per head than anywhere else on earth. But as Ireland’s Rekindling crossed the line to win Tuesday’s 157th running of the Melbourne Cup — one of the world’s richest horse races — bookmakers warn the party is over for the industry.
_“There are tough times ahead with the introduction of new point of consumption taxes and advertising rules,” says Cormac Barry, chief executive of Sportsbet, one of Australia’s largest wagering companies. “This is an earthquake — a seismic event for the industry.” _
Gambling is an A$23bn ($17.7bn) a year business Down Under, where having a flutter on the horses, playing the pokies (poker machines) in pubs or visiting a casino is part of everyday life for many. Australian adults lose on average €911 per year on gambling — placing them at the top of the global league table in terms of spending on betting.
Poker machines eat up about half the annual spending but a boom on online wagering, which is an A$1.4bn a year industry, has attracted many of the world’s biggest bookmakers to Australia. Sportsbet is owned by Paddy Power Betfair while William Hill, Bet 365 and Ladbrokes Coral have all rushed to establish Australian units to chase local punters.
_But a combination of cash-strapped state administrations and concerns about problem gambling has created a political backlash against gambling operators, who face higher taxes and changes to a light-touch regulatory regime. _
In July, the state of South Australia introduced a 15 per cent consumption tax on net wagering revenues or gambling losses on bookmakers. Western Australia will follow suit on January 1, and other states are expected to follow.
The tax, which is modelled on a similar UK levy, is designed to reverse a slide in betting tax collection caused by an influx of foreign bookmakers, who base themselves in low-tax locations.
_Sportsbet has warned that its pre-tax profits, which were A$175m in the financial year to July, could halve if the consumption tax is introduced across Australia. Other smaller operators in Australia such as William Hill, Bet 365 and Ladbrokes have racked up significant losses since entering the market. _
_“It will be a catalyst for further consolidation,” says Mr Barry. _
The racing industry, which depends on bookmakers for a large slice of its own revenues, is concerned the levy could dent its finances and its ability to host world class events such as the Melbourne Cup.
“It depends on how the tax is implemented by each state and this is not yet understood,” says Giles Thompson, chief executive of Racing Victoria.
“We want to ensure the racing and thoroughbred industry is not worse off.”
_But in another blow to the bookmaking industry, anti-gambling activists have stepped up their lobbying activities to overturn what they claim is a light-touch regulatory regime. _
“Gambling is Australia’s blind spot, just like guns are in the US, and until Australia’s political business and media elites start treating gambling like tobacco, record levels of harm will continue to occur,” says Tim Costello of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, a lobby group.
Canberra recently passed new media laws to prevent bookmakers advertising on television during live sports events and before 8.30pm. The crackdown follows controversy caused by television networks inviting bookmakers on to sports shows to provide live odds before matches.
_Draft rules banning gambling operators from offering free bets, credits or other financial inducements to entice customers to open online betting accounts were recently agreed between state and federal ministers. _
But while politicians have shown a willingness to tackle the bookmaking industry, critics say they have failed to tackle the lucrative poker machine industry, which is one of the largest donors to Australian politics.
“The most obvious move is $1 maximum bets on pokies,” says Stephen Mayne, a local government councillor and campaigner for gambling reform. “But a tobacco-style ban on gambling advertising would also help.”
There’s a chart that goes with it that I can’t paste in for some reason that sets out how much per person was spent in 2016.
I can’t see the exact amounts on it but it’s roughly;
US, NZ, Canada €400