Unexplored love of gambling in Australia’s movie scene

Ray Allen

Four out of five Australians engage in some sort of gambling, making it the highest figure in the world. But still, you would have trouble naming memorable Australian gambling-themed movies. Despite the nation-wide obsession with gambling, this topic rarely makes it into the big screen.

It’s still not clear why gambling is so popular in Australia, but some experts attribute this to the sheer number of venues offering some form of gambling. With 6,800 hotels, clubs and pubs offering to bet to Australians along with 4700 lottery outlets and multiple casinos spread across the country, it’s easy to see why so many Australians are engaged in gambling. Crown Resort and Star Entertainment are two of the main casino operators, offering a variety of gaming and non-gaming activities to their customers all over Australia.

Considering the statistics it’s surprising that contemporary movies don’t showcase Australians’ involvement in gambling, but there have been a few releases over the years that shed more light tackle this topic:

Oscar and Lucinda (1997)

Directed by the award-winning filmmaker, Gillian Armstrong, this romantic drama is based on the Peter Carey novel that won the 1988 Booker Prize. The British-Australian film star Cate Blanchett, Ralph Fiennes, Ciaran Hinds, and Tom Wilkinson. The movie was nominated for the Academy Awards for the Best Costume Design. 

The movie takes us through the story from the viewpoint of the great-grandson of one of the film’s main characters- Oscar. The movie goes back and forth in the time leading us to the birth of the great-grandson.

Another main character is Lucinda Leplastrier, a wealthy heiress who decides to buy a glass factory. Lucinda gets involved in gambling through her company’s accountant. Meanwhile, Oscar is studying to become an Anglican clergyman. During this time Oscar ends up becoming a very successful gambler, which allows him to pay for his studies and donate money to charities. The two characters meet later on and Oscar explains to her that gambling is not a sin.

Down the line, Oscar becomes addicted to gambling and loses his scholarship. He ends up working at Lucinda’s glass factory. Lucinda and Oscar then bet their inheritance over the production of a glass church model. Oscars ends up winning the wager but dies when he falls asleep in the glass church.

After his death, their mutual friend Reverend Dennis Hasset becomes worried that Oscar’s friend Mirian will get Lucinda’s wealth so he burns the papers verifying the wager between Oscar and Lucinda.

This is a victorian-era film depicting the reckless actions of the two. The movie does a good job of presenting the dichotomy of Oscar’s addiction to gambling while being a religious person.

Dirty Deeds (2002)

The movie takes place in the late 1960s and revolves around the Australian mobster Barry Ryan. The main character controls Sydney’s gaming industry and earns profit from casino slot machines. Barry’s business really takes off due to US soldiers visiting Sydney for leisure in 1969 during the Vietnam War. 

The movie has multiple sub-plots and explores a variety of themes. The American Mafia, noticing Barry’s profits tries to grab some for themselves. Two henchmen, the wiser, older Tony and the young and more violet Sal are sent to sort things out. This forces Ryan in situations with many professional and personal issues, including stand-offs with the “yanks” and managing his relationships with his wife and mistress. Barry also has to deal with the rival who wants to put him out of business. Barry’s nephew also causes him some trouble in addition to the Vietnam veteran who ends up falling in love with Barry’s mistress Margaret.

The movie was directed by David Caesar in Australia and was produced by Nine Films and Television of the free-to-air TV Nine Network.

Broke (2016)

A drama directed by Health Davis deals with Australia’s pressing issue of gambling and sport. The Movie was shot in Queensland and won several international awards including a Film Jury Award for best screenplay at the 2016 Southeast New England Film, Music and Art Festival.

The movie captures the continuous ups and downs of the Rugby League and focuses on the alleged match-fixing and gambling addiction that consumes the lives of players who want to keep winning even after they quit playing the sport themselves.

Even though the plot is fictional the director stated that it is heavily based on real-life stories he witnessed while living in western Sydney, where he knew a lot of ex-National Rugby League players.

The movie was a success not only in the film industry but with the professionals who treat gambling addiction. According to them, the movie addresses several issues that gambling addiction causes, including financial issues, depression and various problems in their personal lives. Many counselors noted that the movie can help raise awareness around gambling addiction and reduce the stigma around gambling.

Considering the importance of Gambling in Australia and the many angles from which movies can portray this dynamic, it is safe to say that there is a lot of potential in exploring this topic. As highlighted by the examples above, movies can help reduce stigma while increasing awareness around the topic, as well as attracting the attention of those who love to gamble.