An Australian Tradition
It might not be quite as well known as Australia’s love of sport, the beach, and an ice cold beer – but Australians love to gamble as well.
There’s a long history of ‘having a flutter’ in Australia. From the abundance of ‘pokies’ (video slot machines) in Australian pubs and clubs to the recent rise in the popularity of online gaming sites such as Full Tilt and it’s competitors, there’s no shortage of Aussies willing to splash a little cash in the hope of winning big.
Like all things, gambling is something that can be enjoyable, but must also be done in moderation. While a visit to Australia certainly doesn’t need you to gamble, there are a few uniquely Australian spins on the pastime that can certainly be enjoyed without breaking your bank.
By far Australia’s biggest horse racing carnival and one of the few days of the year where many people bet, the annual Melbourne Cup is the culmination of the Spring Racing Carnival and brings the entire state of Victoria to a standstill as people don suits & fancy hats, overindulge in drinks, and gather to watch the most exciting few minutes of horse racing they’ll likely ever witness.
Melbourne Cup Day is a state holiday in Victoria, but all states come to something of a standstill for the race in early November of each years. Many workplaces hold office sweepstakes or schedule afternoons out to watch the race at a restaurant or pub, and even the busiest of supermarkets is likely to enjoy a few minutes of quiet as the race is called over the radio.
I’m not much of a gambler (and definitely even less of a horse racing enthusiast), but even I throw a couple of dollars on the horse with the funniest name every year in the hopes it’ll pull out a miracle win and contribute to my travel fund.
Hitting the Pokies
I recently completed my RCG (Responsible Care of Gambling) certification here in NSW, which is a day long course explaining the laws surrounding gambling in the many pubs and clubs in my home state with video poker machines. While some of the statistics made for grim reading, I’d be hard pressed to find a friend who hasn’t from time to time fed a couple of coins into these ever present bundles of lights and sound.
With most bars, pubs, and registered clubs (not to be confused with night clubs) in Australia boasting at least a few of these machines, having a bit of a flutter has become a regular part of many a night out for Aussies.
If you’ve been to Las Vegas or Macau, don’t set your standards quite so high when visiting an Australian casino. With only a few casinos scattered across the country, these establishments are impressive without ever quite matching up to the iconic sights you’d expect to find along the famous Las Vegas strip. Australian casinos exist in a middle ground between the out and out decadence of the Bellagio and the seedier charms of a Fremont Street casino.
A big part of this is the prevalence of the aforementioned ‘pokies’ (short for video poker machines), but it’s also a bit of a cultural difference as well. The demand just isn’t there for entire cities devoted to casinos.
That being said, a night out at The Star, Jupiters, or Crown can be a unique and eventful evening. With casinos not being the norm, they make for a unique way to celebrate a birthday or bachelor party – boasting restaurants, live entertainment, sports bars, and the obligatory gambling as well. An evening suited up or wearing your finest cocktail dress, sipping expensive cocktails, and trying your luck on the blackjack table or roulette wheel is definitely a change from the Aussie bar and night club scene that I can attest to.
Two Up on ANZAC Day
Illegal on every other day of the year, ‘Two Up’ was a popular game among Australian and New Zealand soldiers during their lengthy campaigns abroad in World Wars I and II. A relatively simple game in which a neutral party flips two pennies and competing players bet on whether the coins will land both heads up, both heads down, or a mix; it is only legal to play the game on ANZAC Day (April 25th) or in a few of Australia’s casinos.
It’s not the kind of game you’d play often anyway, but it’s a fun tribute to the many Australian and New Zealand servicemen and women who lost their lives in the defense of Queen and country in the so-called ‘Great Wars’.
I don’t want to be seen to be actively promoting gambling as a pastime. While it’s something I indulge in on one or two occasions a year at most, I understand that there are those who suffer seriously from gambling addiction. I believe it’s certainly possible to enjoy gambling in a responsible and moderate way without it getting out of hand. If you are going to have a punt in Australia, there are a few tips I’d recommend abiding by.
- Set yourself a spending limit and do not exceed it.
- Do not gamble alone. Make it a social activity.
- Avoid drinking and gambling. Alcohol reduces inhibitions that might usually stop you before things get out of hand.
- Take a break. Don’t indulge in marathon gambling sessions. Taking a break reminds you of the time and allows you time to clear your head.
If done responsibly, participating in Australia’s gambling culture needn’t be something to completely derail your trip. It’s no different than indulging in alcohol – perfectly acceptable if you do it in moderation.
Have you discovered any interesting or unique gambling traditions in your time abroad?
Do you ever participate in gambling while you travel?