I think gambling is great fun… especially that game so indelibly etched in the Australian psyche: two-up.
Yet it has always struck me as an injustice (and a belittling insult) that although two-up is illegal 364 days of the year, clubs and casinos are permitted to profit from the loss and misery of the Australian public while lining the pockets of billionaires and their political accomplices.
For me, this year’s Anzac commemorations have struck a careful and beautiful balance between the parochialism of nationhood and honouring the human sacrifice of an entire generation of innocent Australians. That we as a nation can stand in solidarity to uphold the memory of our Anzacs with deep respect and at the same time acknowledging that WWI was simply a result of an insidious disaster of international politics is an inspiring tribute to the character of our modern nation.
Historically, two-up has been a game for the poorer classes. It was played by the English and Irish in the 18th century and was also a popular game in rural Australia among miners and shearers. After spreading across Australia during the gold rushes it was inevitable that Australian troops would bring it to the bloody shores of Gallipoli and play it in the trenches.
With a few minor exceptions, it has always been unlawful to play two-up in public with the exception of Anzac Day. The following is an abbreviation of how the laws are expressed by the ACT Government:
“Two-Up has been declared an unlawful game under section 7(2) of the Unlawful Gambling Act 2009 (the Act). However Part 4 of the Act allows for an ‘exempt two-up game’. An ‘exempt two-up game’ is one which is played on 25 April only AND where the following conditions apply: The owner or person in charge of the place where the game is conducted has given permission for the game to take place.
According to The Australian National University, Australians lose more money gambling per person than any other nation in the world. During 2012-13, ACT gamblers lost over $16 million playing the 271 pokie machines at the Canberra Labor Group’s network of clubs. Of that $16 million, $4.2 million was directed to the ACT Labor Party. But proceeds raised by Australian gamblers are not only restricted to the Labor Party with donations to the Liberal and National parties from Clubs NSW and the Australian Hotels Association peaking at $1.3 million in the final quarter of 2010.
According to researchers Francis Markham and Martin Young, Australian gamblers lost over $20 billion in 2011-12 (excluding losses on overseas websites). The average Australian gambler loses $380 per year and the average “problem gambler” loses $12,000 per year which accounts for 40 per cent of the total money lost on poker machines. It is therefore patently clear that Australia’s gambling industry is reliant on problem gamblers.
Australia’s current debate regarding problem gambling is a farce. Recent proposals to curtail the amount of money that people are allowed to gamble are unworkable and place unnecessary infringements on an individual’s liberty.
Instead of diminishing the rights of citizens to do what they want with their money, why don’t we increase our freedoms? Why don’t we legalise two-up? Two-up is fun. It inspires a revelry unique to the Australian spirit. Legalising two-up would decrease the profits that flow to billionaires and political parties and keep money in the pockets of ordinary Australians.
The ACT should legalise two-up; I don’t think our diggers would disagree.
Photo: Aussies National Game, Two up, Hurdcott Camp. Used under Creative Commons via State Library of South Australia.