Gambling activity in Australia

Findings from wave 15 of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey
Research Report – November 2017

Key Findings

Chapter 2: Participation

  • According to population estimates from the HILDA Survey, 6.8 million or 39% of Australian adults gambled in a typical month of 2015. They are referred to here as regular gamblers.
  • Among the 6.8 million gamblers, participation in lotteries was most common (76%), followed by instant scratch tickets (22%) and electronic gaming machines (EGMs) (21%).
  • Compared to the Australian adult population, regular gambling participants were substantially over-represented among males (i.e., 54% of gamblers were males versus 49% of Australian adults), people aged 50 and older, those who had ten years or less schooling or had completed a certificate/diploma, people who were retired, who lived alone or with their partner and no others, who lived outside a major city, and those who drew on welfare as their main source of income.
  • There were wide-ranging sociodemographic differences between those who gambled regularly on each activity and the Australian adult population.

Chapter 3: Expenditure

  • Typical monthly expenditure by the 6.8 million regular gamblers amounted to an estimated $8.6 billion dollars nationally for 2015. Lotteries (42%), EGMs (21%) and race betting (15%) accounted for most of this.
  • Regular gamblers' average past-year expenditure was an estimated $1,272. Poker participants recorded the highest mean product expenditure ($1,785) and instant scratch tickets the lowest ($248).
  • Gamblers generally spent around half their overall gambling outlay on a single product. Lotteries (79%) and keno (32%) were exceptions, accounting for substantially more and less of their respective participants' overall outlays.
  • Mean expenditure was significantly higher than average among gamblers who were male, had completed schooling no further than year 10, were employed full-time, single, and lived with multiple adults. It was lower among gamblers who had a university degree, and lived in a house with children.

Chapter 4: Gambling problems and participation

  • As measured using the PGSI, an estimated 7.9% or 1.39 million Australian adults had experienced one or more gambling-related problems in 2015. That is, their gambling behaviour caused or put them at risk of gambling problems. This included 1% or 193,000 who could be classified as "problem gamblers" - the most severe category.
  • 80% of those who had experienced problems in the past year had gambled in a typical month of 2015 
    (i.e., regularly).
  • Much higher proportions of low-risk, moderate-risk and problem gamblers participated in EGMs, race betting, and sports betting, compared to non-problem gamblers. Problem gamblers also had much higher participation rates than any other group in casino table games (20%), poker (20%), and private betting (13%).
  • Compared to non-problem gamblers, those who experienced problems were over-represented among people who were male, aged 18 to 29, Indigenous, were unemployed, or not employed (excluding students and retirees), single, renting, lived in a low socioeconomic area, had a low income, and drew their main source of income from welfare payments. They were under-represented among those who owned their own home, retirees, university graduates, and those who drew their main source of income from superannuation or investments.

Chapter 5: Gambling problems and expenditure

  • Gamblers who had problems (i.e., the combined low-risk, moderate-risk and problem gamblers), representing 17% of regular gamblers, accounted for nearly half of all expenditure by regular gamblers in 2015 ($3.63b or 42%), and more than half of all expenditure by regular gamblers across EGMs, race betting, sports betting, casino table games and private betting (59-69%).
  • Regular gamblers' mean expenditure was higher among adults in higher risk groups. Non-problem gamblers averaged $883 over the year whereas problem gamblers averaged $6,241.
  • The strength of the relationship between expenditure and gambler risk status varied markedly across products. Lottery, keno and instant scratch ticket expenditure had the weakest connection. Race betting, EGMs and particularly sports betting expenditure had the strongest.
  • Higher risk gamblers were likely to spend more on gambling overall, and spread their outlay over a range of activities rather than a single activity. Lower risk gamblers spent less overall and on fewer products.

Chapter 6: Gambling and the household budget

  • Gamblers living in low-income households spent, on average, a much greater proportion of their household's total disposable income on gambling than high-income households (10% vs 1%) - this despite spending less in actual dollar terms ($1,662 vs $2,387).
  • Higher risk gamblers spent greater proportions of their household's disposable income on gambling. Problem gamblers in low income households spent the greatest proportion (27%) - equivalent to four times the average yearly household utility bills, and more than half the grocery bills, of that income group.
  • Households containing higher risk gamblers experienced a much larger proportion of stressful financial events than those containing non-problem gamblers. The most common were an inability to pay electricity, gas or telephone bills on time, and needing to ask friends or family for financial help.