A Brief History of Gambling Laws in Australia

Since Australia as we know it is relatively young, gambling has always been present in some form, European settlers having brought it with them. Of course, with gambling comes rules and these were also present, albeit ignored.
Gambling laws date all the way back to the late 18th century when soldiers played and made bets on such card games as cribbage and unsuccessful attempts were made to put a stop to it.

But regulated gambling was not really established until 1810 when it arrived in the form of the first official horse race. Gambling on these races was permitted in the clubs but only those higher up, such as army officers were permitted to do so. Horse racing became increasingly popular and 1891 saw the introduction of the Melbourne Cup.

From the development of racing culture, betting grew, including much illegal activity such as off-course betting. This would later be counteracted in the 1970s by the introduction of off-course Totalisator Agency Boards, or TABs, in order to offer a legal alternative that would also generate significant gambling-tax revenues for the government. Other forms of sportsbetting would remain illegal however until the 1980s when TABs would go on to cover other sports. Sportsbetting was eventually legalised online in 1996 first in Northern Territory and later in other states.

But during this time other forms of gambling were still in practise. One particularly notable early legal form of gambling was the birth of Tattersall’s lottery in 1881, which began as a private lottery. However the first government-run lottery was the Golden Casket Art Union, introduced in 1916 with charitable intentions. Economic recession in the 1930s would lead to more state lotteries, in an effort to boost revenue. Lotteries continued to grow in popularity, becoming more commercialised and frequent. However while the government favoured this form of gambling, most others were still illegal until the 1970s.

Casino gambling, both real and simulated online, is what draws the majority of Australian gamblers, although this is mainly down to the pokies they house. Casinos would not be allowed until 1973 as they were perceived as too disruptive and difficult to control, not that this put people off. As always, the decision to legalise casino gambling would be an economic one. Legalising gambling would carry with it two primary benefits; controlling illegal gambling and boosting government revenues. With economic difficulties present legalised gambling would help stabilise economic development and in the wake of increasing tourism, this would prove especially lucrative.

Of course this legalisation did not happen overnight. It began with small, low-key club casinos introduced to breathe new life into the economy in the 1970s. Recession and restructuring of regional economies in the early 1980s led to the development of larger American-style casinos, which would pave the way for international investment opportunities. Casino culture really became fully formed in the 1990s when large casino complexes were introduced and gambling truly became a legitimate form of entertain in Australia.

Poker machines were already widely used before casinos, and would only spread once these larger venues were established. Pokies were legalised in 1956 in New South Wales when their potential for generating income was recognised. This was a huge turning point that would have a permanent impact on gambling culture in Australia. The popularity of pokies spread and by the 1980s they were the dominant form of gambling in Australia.

State governments have however implicated their own various regulations in order to keep gambling under control but with so much revenue emerging as a result of gambling, it seems the law is more in favour of gambling than ever before.

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