Superstitious believers in luck worldwide are attracted to the unpredictability of betting. Today the gambling industry is thriving. Sports betting, slot machines, roulette, poker... Every nation seems to enjoy a bit of betting be it online, in a real life casino or just indulging in a lottery ticket. Since the beginning of the global recession in 2008, the percentage of people's income spent on gambling has, on average, been significantly decreasing. However, for many nations the industry is still still on its way up.
The following list has been drawn up according to data provided in a 2011 report issued by H2 Gambling Capital. It ranks from lowest to highest the top 10 gambling nations in the world, according to the average annual losses per person. The variety of nations on this list might be surprising. It presents a diverse mix of nations: some economically prosperous, others worryingly fragile. Government responses to gambling vary dramatically across these nations - from countries where gambling is illegal to countries where it is encouraged, the annual losses at gambling per person differ only slightly. With the increasing popularity of online gambling platforms making the activity's easily accessible at all times, so government policy seems to make little difference to the determined gambler.
Which countries are gambling biggest, and losing the most? These 10 are the most unfortunate highrollers...
9 Spain - $418 in annual losses per person
Sports betting is the Spanish gambler's weak spot. Although it is difficult to estimate exactly, approximately 60-65% of bids on the grey market go towards sports betting, with the rest split between casino and poker bids. With the introduction of strong anti-smoking laws in 2011 and the recession of 2008-2013, the gambling industry was slightly stilted, but Spain still makes it's way on to our list with an average annual loss of $418 per person. The government's making money from the country's gambling habits, though; it imposes a 20% tax on lottery prizes over €2500.
Over the past years Greece has been hit hard with economic difficulties. However, last year Greeks still managed to lose $2.3 billion to gambling. The EU/IMF's recent multi-billion dollar bailout of Greece required the government to privatise state assets. Struggling to meet the general conditions of the bailout, last August Greece sold the major state-controlled gambling firm OPAP (Greek Organisation of Football Prognostics S.A.) which used to have a monopoly over the gambling industry in the country.
Now the Czech-Greek group Emma Delta holds a 33% stake. Recently, however, suspicions have risen regarding Greece’s commitment to transparent procedures that respect EU standards in the gambling industry.
8 Norway - $448 in annual losses per person
For the most part in Norway, gambling is illegal. The industry is closely monitored by the government with only two companies, Norsk Tipping and Norsk Rikstoto, allowed to offer betting and gambling services to Norwegians.
Since 2010, the Norwegian Government has even introduced a law that makes it obligatory for Norwegian banks to deny their customers all use of their bank cards at casino operators all over the world. This applies to both land-based and online gambling. So how does Norway make its way on to our list? Determined Norwegian gamers have found ways to flout the laws using other country's online casinos to indulge their expensive hobby.
7 Hong Kong - $503 in annual losses per person
Hong Kong's government strives to provide social gambling in authorised and regulated outlets. Gambling is only legal if it is done through the Hong Kong Jockey Club which allows for betting on horse racing, football matches, and one lottery. The club is the largest single taxpayer in Hong Kong, and is its largest employer. The government has found the gambling industry lucrative, claiming taxes on all winnings. The Economist also reports that, as per H2 Gambling's data, Hong Kong's citizens are the largest of the online gamblers - a total of 3.3% of the country's total gambling losses were online, in 2011.
6 Italy -$517 in annual losses per person
Italy has recently seen a significant increase in gambling and is currently the largest gambling market in Europe. A decade ago, regulations on the Italian gambling industry were significantly relaxed, which is thought to have prompted a twenty-fold increase in the activity across the country ever since.
A recent article by the New York Times pinpoints Pavia as a city particularly affected by the gambling trend, estimating that there is one video lottery terminal or slot machine for every 104 of the city’s 68,300 residents. It seems however, that some Italians are discontent with the rise of gambling; a number of anti-slot machine protests have taken place since the beginning of 2014, and since October of 2013 six regions had passed legislation to curb gambling and to help gambling addicts manage their addictions.
5 Finland - $553 in annual losses per person
In Finland, gambling is organised as a national monopoly divided into three organisations whose revenues go towards social improvement. The return from RAY’s goes towards social and health care organisations; Veikkaus Oy, (The Finnish National Lottery) distributes its proceeds to the development of Finnish science, arts, sports, culture and youth work; and proceeds from Fintoto Oy are allocated to horse breeding and horse sports.
Rather than trying to curb the habit, the Finnish government is attempting to rework and benefit from the lucrative gambling industry. Last week the government outlined a new economic policy with the intention of introducing new measures that would strengthen the state's gambling monopoly and a digital monitoring group is to be introduced to analyse ways of preventing illegal gambling and all operations that violate the Finnish Lotteries Act.
4 Canada - $568 in annual losses per person
Although gambling is legal everywhere in Canada, each of the country's ten provinces goes by its own set of regulations. Poker, sports betting and skill-related games appear to be Canadian gamblers' favourites. With $568 in losses per Canadian adult annually on average, the industry is important for the larger Canadian economy.
The Canadian government asks all of its casinos to stick to strict recordkeeping policies, and is currently in the process of introducing regulations for online casinos. The government would like to include clauses so that all online casinos have to answer to the Proceeds of Crime and Terrorist Financing Act (PCTFA). This has caused some controversy with some gaming critics questioning whether the government is adding bureaucratic costs to the operation of online gambling sites in Canada so as to drive out foreign competition.
3 Ireland - $588 in annual losses per person
It seems that belief in the 'the luck of the Irish' still holds strong amongst Irish gamblers. Indeed, although casinos are illegal in Ireland loopholes in the law allow for private clubs offering casino facilities, allowing the industry to thrive. The country is mainly known for sports betting. PaddyPower is Ireland's biggest bookie and was one of the first betting companies to make its way online and now it's successful worldwide. Gambling is a bit of a grey area in Ireland, so to ensure it stays that way many Irish operators base their server sites offshore - generally on the Isle of Man or in Malta. Despite the solid online presence of gambling, the Irish seem to prefer land-based betting: in 2012, PaddyPower's retail market was five times larger than its online one.
2 Singapore - $1, 174 in annual losses per person
Since 2005, Singapore has allowed restricted land-based gambling, and in 2010 introduced two casinos, The Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa. These casinos are designed to attract tourists who are allowed free entry, but in a government effort to discourage the activity, locals have to pay a $100 entry fee.
It seems, however, that these measures have been ineffective with an estimated gambling loss of $1, 174 per person per year. Last December, the government announced its intention of limiting access to remote internet and mobile gambling platforms. In response, lottery operator Singapore Pools is hoping to launch the first fully licensed Singapore-based gambling website.
1 Australia - $1, 288 in annual losses per person
With a strong and ever-growing economy, 80% of adult Australians engage in some form of gambling. This brings Australia to the top of our list as the world's biggest gambling nation - with correspondingly huge losses. Gambling winnings are un-taxed in Australia, giving citizens a further incentive to play. Gambling operators are heavily taxed instead, with state and territory governments deriving approximately 10% or more of their taxation revenue from legalised gambling.
The activity is proliferating, and whilst some argue that it's a natural activity for a cash-rich nation, it is also subject to concerns as people have begun to spend more and more extravagantly, as demonstrated by the shocking figure of over $1200 gambling losses annually per adult on average. According to researchers at Monash University, the most affected gambling areas are disadvantaged zones along the east coast. In these zones gambling is said to be causing higher levels of crime, domestic violence and mental illness.