(Investigator 96, 2004 May)

The gambling losses of South Australian gamblers prove that the theory of probability – derived from mathematics and science – cannot be overcome with lucky charms and superstition.

Poker machine losses in South Australia increased every year since the "pokies" were introduced in 1994. The ten-year total loss to gamblers is over $4,300 million, which averages to about $2,800 for every woman, man and child.

Poker Machine Losses in SA (1)
1994 $66 million 1999 $465 million
1995 $275 million 2000 $516 million
1996 349 million 2001 $572 million
1997 $376 million 2002 $637 million
1998 $419 million 2003 $695 million

South Australia has almost 15,000 gaming machines in 600 venues. Australia-wide poker machines number 200,000 and gamblers now lose $14,000 million annually.

Sixty percent of people who see counsellors for gambling addiction are women. Many were attracted to hotels to escape depression or loneliness but got sucked into gambling. (2)

One woman who turned to gaming machines, to ease loneliness when her boyfriend was absent, financed her losses by taking $45,000 from the service station she worked at. (3)

Many gamblers similarly try to recoup losses by turning to crime or by selling family assets.

A 60-year-old male pokie player lost all his savings, reacted by snatching a woman's handbag at a bus stop, and had to appear in court. (4)

An estimate in 2001 was that 2,500 South Australian gamblers had committed crime as a result of their gambling. (5)

Mathematically speaking the person who bets with the odds against him is likely to lose. The theory behind this is explained in books such as The Mathematics of Games and Gambling (1981, E Packel) and in textbooks on probability and statistical sampling.

Poker machine owners have the odds pre-set to their advantage and hence are nearly always winners. They keep about 55% of what the players lose. This is enough to pay wages, taxes and other costs and still leave big profits.

The government also wins because it gets as tax about 35% of the money the players lose and 10% as GST.

Consider a simple coin-tossing game: The game consists of me tossing a coin five times and you tossing it four times. The person who gets more "heads" wins and we bet $20 per game.

Probably no "pokie" player would play this game with me. He knows that although I'll lose some games I will, over many games, get ahead (pun unintended). At poker machine venues the odds are stacked against players to about the same degree as my coin game so that most gamblers lose.

Gamblers, however, can change – not their luck but their behavior. Flinders Medical Centre, for example, offers intensive therapy and counselling with a 90% success rate.

Subjects listen to taped poker machine noises and watch flashing lights for hours until the urge to play passes. They also get corrected on erroneous or superstitious beliefs such as:

If poker machines are bad for you, other forms of legal gambling are no better. Adelaide Casino, for example, has over 600 wage earners who have to be paid which means that a lot of gamblers have to do a lot of losing. The same is true of race track betting.

A tradesman, 48, lost $500,000 at the casino, robbed a cashier of $136,000 and lost that too. (6)

A West Australian bank manager stole $19 million from his bank, lost it on various forms of racing, and was sentenced to five years. (7)

In March 2003 twelve gambling addicts caught in South Australia in one week had between them stolen $400,000. (8)

Several of Adelaide's wealthy people have lost up to $10 million at the Casino!

Many South Australian adolescents are repeating their parent's errors. The Sunday Mail reported: "A staggering 9000 highschool students are gambling at least once a week…" This amounts to one sixth of Years 10, 11 and 12 students. (9)

The book A Mug's Game (1988, John O'Hara) is a history of gaming and betting in Australia. "Mug" means a stupid person and reminds us again that gamblers who bet against the odds will likely lose.

1    Sunday Mail 2004, January 18, p. 9;
2    The Advertiser 2003, September 20, p. 25
3    The Advertiser 2002, December 7, p. 18
4    The Advertiser 2003, March 15, p. 23
5    Sunday Mail 2001, October 7, p. 22
6    The Advertiser 2003, January 11, p 11
7    Sunday Mail 2003 August 10, p. 9;
      The Advertiser 2003, September 13, p. 7
8    Sunday Mail 2003, March 23, p. 22
9    Sunday Mail, 2004, March 21, p. 5

Rational analysis of common beliefs on this website: