Gambling at Elwick Racecourse (AOT, PH30/1/3632)

Gambling had its roots in the pubs and sports of the early colonial period. By the mid-nineteenth century Hobart had 135 pubs. Gambling was based on cock-fighting, dog-fighting, horseracing and wrestling between humans: almost all sport before 1850 involved gambling. Rigged lotteries, raffles and sweepstakes were commonplace. With so many pubs serving such a relatively small population, gambling was seen as a means of beating the competition.

There has been a long history of resistance to gambling in Tasmania, particularly by church ministers and temperance and moralist societies. Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries they have had varying degrees of success in persuading governments to curb gambling. Notably, during the Second World War conservative elements persuaded the government to introduce the Gaming Act (1945). This gave the police increased powers to crack down on illegal gambling in particular, but it was so widespread that law enforcement proved difficult, especially in rural areas.

Church opposition was not enough to deter George Adams from moving from Queensland to Tasmania in 1895, to set up his successful Tattersalls lottery. Tattersalls continued to grow after Adams' death in 1904 and was a major contributor to the Tasmanian economy. In 1954 the company moved to Victoria, a financial loss for the state.

Tasmania's most noteworthy contribution to Australia's gambling industry was its establishment of the nation's first legal casino, at Federal Hotels' Wrest Point in Hobart in 1973. Not long afterwards a second casino was established in Launceston. After much political wrangling, during the Reece and Bethune governments in the late 1960s and early 1970s the appeal of a tax boom proved too hard to resist, and pro-gambling voices drowned out those of moralists and protestors. The success of Tasmania's casinos was shown by a Victorian royal commission in 1982 which, based on accounts of the Tasmanian experience, recommended the establishment of a casino in Victoria.

Tasmania's love of gambling continued to develop until by the end of the twentieth century gaming machines expanded into pubs and clubs throughout the state. There was considerable hue and cry, but not from churches and moralists alone. By now gambling addiction was recognised as a disease that broke up homes and led many of its victims to crime. Welfare agencies lobbied the government to restrict access and provide funds to support the rehabilitation of gambling. Eventually Federal Hotels agreed to contribute from their profits to a community and welfare fund. In 2004 welfare groups continue to lobby to have automatic teller machines banned from gambling venues to prevent gambling addicts from drawing funds beyond their means.

In the past two decades various groups have been established to assist problem gamblers, notably the Gambling Helpline, Gambling Support Bureau, Gambling and Betting Addiction Inc., and several Anglicare services. They are funded by a community support levy.

David Paulin