This snapshot was written by the Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRC) at the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) for the AIHW.

Gambling is a major public policy issue in Australia, affecting the health and wellbeing of individuals and families in a range of ways. Estimates suggest that Australians lost approximately $25 billion on legal forms of gambling in 2018–19, representing the largest per capita losses in the world (Letts 2018; QGSO 2021).

The social costs of gambling – including adverse financial impacts, emotional and psychological costs, relationship and family impacts, and productivity loss and work impacts – have been estimated at around $7 billion in Victoria alone (Browne et al. 2017). Gambling-related harms affect not only the people directly involved, but also their families, peers and the wider community (Goodwin et al. 2017).

This page aims to:

  • improve understanding of gambling participation and expenditure in Australia
  • explore how the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and related restrictions have affected gambling behaviour
  • describe gambling-related impacts on health and wellbeing.

Support services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:

Gambling Help: 1800 858 858

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Gambling participation

In 2015 and 2018, the nationally representative Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey collected data on gambling participation, expenditure and gambling-related problems.

Estimates suggest that around 35% of Australian adults aged 18 and over (or 6.5 million people) spent money in a ‘typical month’ (defined as ‘regular gambling’) on 1 or more gambling activities in 2018, a drop from 39% (6.8 million people) in 2015 (Figure 1).

In both 2015 and 2018, the main gambling activities that Australians reported regularly spending money on were (Figure 1):

  • lotto or lottery games (30% and 27%, respectively)
  • instant scratch tickets (8.5% and 6.3%)
  • poker machines/pokies (8.1% and 7.4%)
  • betting on horse or dog races (5.6% and 6.2%)
  • betting on sports (3.3% and 4.6%).

Between 2015 and 2018, there were decreases in regular gambling on lotto/lottery games, instant scratch tickets and poker machines/pokies. Over the same period, participation (regular spending) on some activities increased, including betting on horse or dog races, betting on sports, Keno, casino table games, private betting and poker.

Regular gambling differs by age and sex, as shown in Figure 2. In both 2015 and 2018, gambling participation was more common among men than women, and among adults aged 55 and over than among those aged 35–54 and 18–34.

Gambling expenditure

The HILDA Survey collected self-reported data on gambling expenditure in a typical month in 2015 and 2018 (Figure 3). Among those who spent money on gambling (on any activity), average typical monthly expenditure increased slightly between the two waves (from $126.60 to $133.40). Increases were seen in spending on poker machines/pokies, betting on horse or dog races and betting on sports.

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Gambling expenditure data

Gambling expenditure data are also compiled on an annual basis for the Australian Gambling Statistics report (QGSO 2021). This report defines expenditure as net amount lost (amount wagered minus amount won) by people who gamble.

See Australian gambling statistics, 36th edition for background information and more detail on the definition of gambling products, sources of gambling data, relevant legislation and notes attached to specific tables and data items.

This page presents expenditure/losses data on legal, regulated forms of gambling, including:

  • racing and sports betting
  • electronic gaming/poker machines
  • other gaming, such as lotteries, poker, casino gaming, football pools, interactive gaming, and minor gaming (including raffles, bingo and the like).

All expenditure/losses data reported on this page represent ‘real expenditure’; that is, data with the effects of inflation removed to enable comparisons across years.

Total gambling expenditure/net losses in Australia increased from $22.6 billion in 2001–02 to $25.0 billion in 2018–19 (Figure 4). Gaming – that is, all legal forms of gambling other than racing and sports betting – made up around 81–87% of the total money lost in Australia during the period examined, with gaming/poker machines alone accounting for 50–60% of the losses.

During the period 2001–02 to 2018–19 (the most recent data available), per capita gambling expenditure/losses in Australia fell from around $1,547 to $1,277 (Figure 5). While the largest per capita expenditure/losses have been on gaming, per capita expenditure/losses on sports betting has increased in recent years.

Total gambling expenditure/losses remain highest in the most populated states and territories in Australia (Figure 6) but have increased in the Northern Territory in recent years due to increased expenditure/losses reported on racing and sports betting.

Gambling participation and expenditure during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and related government restrictions led to changes in the availability of gambling in Australia, with land-based gambling venues temporarily closed and major national and international sporting codes suspended (Jenkinson et al. 2020). Australian population-level and targeted surveys were conducted to understand how people adjusted to these changes in gambling availability.

The Australian National University Centre for Social Research and Methods surveyed representative samples of Australian adults at 3 time points:

  1. before the COVID-19 restrictions (April 2019)
  2. during the key period of restrictions (May 2020)
  3. as restrictions eased in many jurisdictions in Australia (November 2020) (Biddle 2020).

Overall, across 11 types of gambling activities, there was a sharp decline in gambling participation from April 2019 (before COVID-19 restrictions) (66%) to May 2020 (during the key period of restrictions) (53%). Gambling participation rose to 59% in November 2020 (after restrictions eased in many jurisdictions) but did not return to pre-pandemic levels.

As shown in Figure 7, of the 11 gambling activities examined, the largest decline in participation during the key period of COVID-19 restrictions (May 2020) was for raffle tickets (–14%), followed by lotteries (–8.6%), poker machines at venues (–8.1%), and horse/greyhound race betting (–5.8%). Gambling on horse/greyhound races was the only activity that had returned to pre-pandemic levels by November 2020. (Racing events continued throughout the COVID-19 restrictions and some major sports resumed with condensed seasons).

The Australian Gambling Research Centre at the Australian Institute of Family Studies examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions on gambling participation and expenditure among Australian adults who gambled in the past 12 months (Jenkinson et al. 2020).

The gambling products participants reported spending money on over (i) the 30 days before the COVID-19 restrictions (February 2020) and (ii) over the 30 days before completing the survey (May–July 2020) are shown in Figure 8.

Key findings from the study by Jenkinson and colleagues (2020) revealed that:

  • horse racing, sports betting, greyhound racing and lotto were the main products that participants gambled on before and during COVID-19
  • in general, while participation in racing, sports and other wagering activities remained relatively stable, there were statistically significant decreases in gambling on most land-based products during the restrictions, including on:
    • poker/electronic gambling machines or ‘pokies’
    • instant scratch tickets
    • Keno
    • casino table games
  • even with limited access to venues, overall, participants gambled more often during COVID-19; this was largely driven by increases in the frequency of gambling on racing (horse, greyhound and harness), sports, eSports, lotto and casino table games
  • almost 1 in 3 survey participants signed up for a new online betting account during COVID-19, and 1 in 20 started gambling online
  • young men (aged 18–34) were the sub-population most likely to:
    • sign up for new online accounts
    • increase their frequency and monthly spending on gambling (from $687 to $1,075)
    • be at risk of gambling-related harm.

Gambling-related problems and harms

Measuring gambling-related problems among people who gamble

Gambling-related problems are commonly assessed via the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) (Ferris and Wynne 2001). The PGSI provides a measure of at-risk behaviour in problem gambling during the previous 12-month period. It consists of 9 items (questions), such as ‘have you bet more than you could really afford to lose?’, with response options being never (0), sometimes (1), most of the time (2) and almost always (3). Scores are summed for a total between 0 and 27. Respondents are grouped into 4 categories based on their scores: non-problem gambling (0), low-risk gambling (1–2), moderate-risk gambling (3–7), and problem gambling (8–27). Respondents scoring 1+ may be classified as being at some risk of, or already experiencing, gambling-related problems.

The PGSI was included in the HILDA Survey in 2015 and 2018; findings for Australian adults are presented in Figure 9, by sex and age group. Around 7.9% of Australians (an estimated 1.38 million people) were classified as being at some risk of experiencing gambling-related problems in 2015, reducing to around 7.2% (an estimated 1.33 million people) in 2018.

A higher percentage of men were at risk for gambling-related problems (10% in 2015; 9.2% in 2018) than women (5.7% in 2015; 5.3% in 2018). At-risk gambling among young people aged 18–34 increased slightly from 2015 (7.4%) to 2018 (8.1%) but decreased for older age groups (35–54: 8.3% in 2015, 6.3% in 2018; 55 and over: 8.0% in 2015; 7.4% in 2018).

Types of gambling-related harm

Gambling-related problems and harm can be experienced on a spectrum, ranging from minor negative experiences to crisis harms and legacy harms.

Browne and colleagues (2016) developed a conceptual framework for gambling-related harm that comprises 7 main domains: financial, relationships, emotional/psychological, decrements to health, reduced performance at work/study, and cultural harm and criminal activities (combined below as ‘other harms’).

Estimates of the distribution of harm across these domains are presented in Figure 10. Harms to relationships, health, and emotional/psychological wellbeing accounted for the greatest share of gambling-related harm.

Gambling and affected others

In recent years, it has been increasingly recognised that gambling-related harms affect not only people who gamble, but also their families, friends, and the wider community (see, for example, Browne et al. 2016; Dowling 2014; Goodwin et al. 2017; Hing et al. 2020; Langham et al. 2016; Wardle et al. 2018).

Research conducted by Goodwin and colleagues (2017) examined how many people (on average) could be negatively affected by someone else’s at-risk gambling. The research found that a person experiencing problem gambling can affect up to 6 other people around them, moderate-risk gambling up to 3 others, and low-risk gambling up to 1 other. Close family members, including spouses and children, were most often identified as the people impacted by others’ gambling problems (see Goodwin et al. 2017 for more detail).

Gambling-related help seeking

State and territory prevalence studies suggest that a very small proportion of people seek help for problems related to gambling. For example, the most recent NSW gambling survey found that less than one percent (0.9%) of people who gamble had sought help for problems related to their gambling in the past 12 months, in the Northern Territory the estimate was 1.5%, and in the ACT 2% (see, for example, Browne et al. 2019; Menzies School of Health Research 2019). Among those who do, help-seeking strategies include talking with friends or family and accessing services such as Gambling Helplines.

Data gaps and opportunities for improved monitoring

Globally, gambling has expanded at a rapid pace in recent decades and related harms are an increasing concern. This page draws on available data to describe trends in gambling participation, expenditure and related harms in Australia; however, there are limitations to these data sources (including a lack of consistency in study design, sample selection and measurement of gambling consumption and harm). A continuing, cost-effective system for monitoring gambling consumption and related harms is needed.

The Australian Gambling Research Centre is currently piloting a national gambling monitoring system to better inform and support evidence-based policy and practical responses. The national system would enable the collection of regular, comprehensive and standardised data – within and across Australian jurisdictions – on trends in gambling consumption among people who gamble, experience of related harms and help-seeking behaviours, and emerging issues warranting further in-depth investigation. See the Gambling Trends Study from the Australian Gambling Research Centre for further details about the pilot study.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on gambling, please see:


The Australian Gambling Research Centre was established under the Gambling Measures Act 2012 (Cwlth). The Centre’s gambling research program reflects the Act, embodies a national perspective, and has a strong family focus. It is part of the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the authors wish to greatly acknowledge the AIFS for supporting this work. Special thanks go to the AIHW for guidance and assistance in producing this snapshot, and to the data custodians and research participants for their valuable contributions to this work.

Contact the Australian Institute of Family Studies, [email protected]


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