Indigenous Australians and gambling

AGRC Discussion Paper No. 2 – November 2014


Gambling among Australian Indigenous peoples has been evident for over 300 years. Macassan traders and sailors introduced many northern Indigenous groups to cards and card gambling for recreation and economic exchange (Breen, 2008; MacKnight, 1976). Card games and gambling have evolved and spread to become an accepted part of Indigenous Australian history and culture (Berndt & Berndt, 1947; Christie & Greatorex, 2009). Today, card gambling is still widely practised in regional towns and remote Indigenous communities, although it has declined in urban areas (Breen, 2012b; Breen, Hing, & Gordon, 2010; 2011). The past 30 years of commercial gambling expansion has corresponded with growth in Indigenous gambling participation to levels well above those seen in the non-Indigenous Australian population (Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council of NSW [AHMRC], 2007).

Gambling by Indigenous Australians occurs against a backdrop of social disadvantage. As Australia's original peoples, Indigenous Australians now make up only about 2.5% of the population (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2012). British colonisation from 1788 resulted in dispossession of land they had occupied for up to 60,000 years. The structural disadvantage that continues today has led to a high burden of ill-health, disability, poverty, unemployment, social problems and poor living conditions (Australian Council of Social Services [ACOSS], 2010; Holland, 2011). As a traditional activity with numerous commercial options, gambling provides recreation, diversion and enjoyment, as well as being a source of problems and hardship.