Gambling's hold on Aussies: showy, but costly

Every year Phar Lap, Australia's equine version of Man o' War, the great American thoroughbred, is taken for a ride around Flemington race track prior to the Melbourne Cup.

While it may not seem unusual for a horse who was a national champion to be taken for a ride, it should be pointed out that Phar Lap died about 50 years ago. He is now stabled in the Victoria State Museum, where his hide has been stuffed and put on display.

And if there is any long-lasting burr in Australian-US relations it is the fact that Phar Lap died when he was racing in the Untied States. Old gamblers still accuse the US of poisoning the horse.

This little story is relevant because Australians have a love for gambling, particularly horse racing.

Even so, opposition to the spread of gambling has been strong among church groups. The Rev. Thomas Cardwell, secretary to the Council of Churches in New South Wales, says that "we have expressed our opposition to legal and illegal gambling at every opportunity." He says the council is particularly concerned about retired people who put between $10 and $50 per night into the "pokee" machines, often gambling away their dinner money. Even former clergymen are known to spend $300 a night on slot machines. "The gambling adds to our social difficulties," Mr. Cardwell concludes.

Almost every morning one of the Sydney radio stations interviews various bookmakers. Each bookie gives his picks for the day. The program lasts nearly an hour.

Australians don't stop at horse racing for betting. Even sailing is fair game, and during the season the fast boats are followed by ferryboats loaded with bettors and bookies.

Gambling halls are a source of political contention. In Queensland there are no machines, which causes a large numbers of Queenslanders to slip across the border to gamble in New South Wales. Resort owners in Queensland, with big investments on the Gold Coast, would like to get permission to install machines to keep the millions of dollars from flowing "across the b order."

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