For gamblers the odds are a little ... dicey
Email Print Normal font Large font Kerrie O'Brien
September 24, 2006
Kerrie O'Brien gives the lowdown on how to make a calculated bet.
We're a nation of gamblers, Bob Hawke said infamously more than a decade ago. But even our former prime minister may not have fully comprehended the extent of it.
Australians spend more than $16 billion a year on gambling
, up from $9 billion in 1993-94, says the Centre for Gambling Research at Canberra's Australian National University (ANU).
But which type of gambling would you be better off taking a punt on? We've compiled the odds on the different forms - so you can make a calculated bet.
GAMES OF SKILL
Experts in gambling make a clear distinction between games that involve individual skill, and others. Surprisingly, few forms of gambling involve effort or knowledge on behalf of the punter.
"Blackjack is one of the only casino games you can actually use skill and ability," says John Croucher, professor of Statistics at Macquarie Graduate School of Management.
Blackjack is prime territory for card counters - professional players who try to memorise cards that have been dealt to figure out which cards are most likely to appear next.
The legality of card counting is questionable, with different regulations in different parts of the country.
With a game such as roulette, Croucher says you will maximise your odds by placing all your money on one spin.
People profess to spotting number sequences in roulette, but Croucher says it's not possible.
Horse racing is another form of gambling in which knowledge and skill come into play. You can increase your chance of winning by studying the form, knowing the trainers
, jockeys, horses and their pedigree.
A look at the odds of winning lotto - in any of its various forms - reveals low probability but high returns if you do. NSW Lotto and OzLotto offer roughly a one in eight million chance of winning
. The odds of winning Powerball are even worse - about one in 55 million.
Even though the odds are extremely low, the good news is that those lucky enough to win tend to have the whole jackpot to themselves. And one more thing: lotto winnings in Australia are tax-free, unless you are a professional gambler.
People tend to be superstitious with their lotto number picking. Birthdays are perennially popular, as is choosing patterns of numbers. Croucher says that more than half the time in lotto, consecutive numbers come up. About half the entries in lotto these days are computer generated, but selecting your own numbers increases the odds of winning slightly.
If you just like winning prizes and are not too worried about hitting the jackpot, Croucher suggests scratch lotteries as the best option. The odds of winning are about one in four, but chances are you will win less than $10.
This category includes any form of betting on events, particularly horse racing but also the trots, greyhounds and so on. People often choose this as a form of entertainment - going to the track, watching the races, enjoying the social element.
Sports betting has become increasingly popular in the past decade. It involves betting on sporting activities other than horse and greyhound racing. Sports betting can be conducted through the TAB and bookmakers, on-course and off-course, by telephone or via the internet. The Centre for Gambling Research says in 2003-04 recorded sports betting expenditure totalled $150.02 million, up from $78.01 million spent in 2002-03.
For poker machines, the minimum payout is 85 per cent, while at the TAB it is about 84 per cent. So for every $100 punters spend they will lose about $15 on average.
Contrary to popular opinion, a poker machine that hasn't paid out for a while is no more likely to pay out than one that just hit the jackpot. Likewise, sitting on the one poker machine all night will not improve your chances of winning.
The one thing to keep in mind is that if you are lucky enough to win big on the pokies, leave immediately.
"The longer you play, the less likely you are to win," Professor Croucher says.
The highest payout amount for a poker machine in this country is $10,000. Expenditure totals $10 billion a year.
Twenty per cent of the world's poker machines are in Australia. There are more machines here - about 200,000 - than in Las Vegas, which has about 150,000. Crown Casino in Melbourne is Australia's biggest poker machine venue, with 2500 machines.
LIFE'S A GAMBLE
Poker machines account for almost 60 per cent of gambling expenditure. Each person in NSW put an average of $914.93 through the pokies in 2003-04.
Figures from the Centre for Gambling Research show a decrease in racing expenditure - from about 22 per cent of the gambling total in 1993-94 to about 13 per cent in 2003-04. An increase in spending at casinos appears to have peaked. Casino expenditure reached a high of about 20 per cent of total gambling in 1997-98, but declined to about 17 per cent in 2003-04.
Spending on lotteries declined from 16 per cent to 10 per cent.
WHAT ARE THE ODDS?
Winning Powerball: 54,979,155 to 1
Winning Oz Lotto: 8,145,060 to 1
Winning Lotto: 7,059,052 to 1
Winning 6 from 38 Pools: 2,760,681 to 1
Picking the trifecta in 13-horse race: 1715 to 1
Rolling total of seven with two dice: 5 to 1
Being killed by lightning: 1,603,250 to 1
Dying from venomous bite or sting: 1,159,364 to 1
Winning $2 Lottery: 180,000 to 1
Winning $5 Lottery: 140,000 to 1
Being murdered (NSW): 57,036 to 1
Being killed or seriously injured as pedestrian (NSW): 5636 to 1
Marriage ending in divorce: 2.3 to 1
Source: Centre for Gambling Research, ANU