Saturday, 12 April 2008

aiding and a-betting

Photo: Flickr

Some of Sydney's poorer families are spending huge proportions of their disposable income on gambling, a new report reveals.

In Fairfield in Sydney's southwest, the average annual household income in 2006 was $47,500. Of this, about $3,180 (6.7%) was considered to be "disposable" (i.e. available after necessities like food, rent, clothing, etc, were paid for). And of this, a huge 78% or $2,484 was spent on poker machines. I'm guessing some of the remaining was spent on other forms of gambling, such as lotteries, off-course horse race betting, etc.

Other suburbs had lower levels of gambling (30-50% of disposable incomes), though this may not indicate lower expenditure on pokies, but higher disposable incomes.

Almost a decade ago, annual expenditure on gambling was estimated at about $14bn, or $1000 per adult, and total stakes were about $100bn. Significant social problems, including compulsive and excessive gambling, depression and suicide, significant involvement of organised crime, and corruption of police and government, have been identified by Government inquiries.

So it is all big business. Little wonder that the two current operators of poker machines feel the heat when just one Australian state (Victoria) plans to open the market up to other companies and apply new forms of regulation to the gambling industry.

At present, all state, territory and the Commonwealth Governments are controlled by the Australian Labor Party, which supposedly represents the interests of "ordinary working families". Yet these same families are the hardest hit by the slow increase in gambling outlets, and the rich owners are the main beneficiaries. Governments gain enormous revenues from taxes on gambling.

I don't think many people seriously suggest restricting gambling opportunities to any great extent, but the whole thing still looks like it benefits the rich and the politicians more than the people. One can't help feeling there must be a better way to supply this service.

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