A Journey Through the History of Poker in Australia

Gambling has become such an integral aspect of Australian culture that one could almost envision a pokie symbol on the national flag. You can find out in the following article how it started! 


With the widespread appeal of sports betting, gaming machines, table games, racing, lotteries, scratch cards, and online entertainment, Australia might well claim the title of the world's most enthusiastic gambling nation. Recent government data suggests that more than seventy percent of Australians engage in some form of gambling, contributing to an annual expenditure exceeding $16 billion. This makes Australia the country with the highest gambling rate globally. Moreover, the nation's gambling industry employs over 30,000 citizens, generating substantial yearly revenue. Although poker may not consistently make headlines in the country and is often considered a game of skill, it's intriguing history and promising future are worth celebrating. Texas Hold'em and poker, in general, are among the most popular games for Australian gamblers. To better understand how this captivating game gained such popularity in the Land Down Under, we will embark on a journey through Australia's poker history, exploring the key events that have shaped the nation's relationship with the game. So, let's dive right into the fascinating world of poker in Australia!

Pondering the immense popularity of poker in cities like Melbourne, Sydney, and Perth, one might assume that the game has been a staple of Australian culture since time immemorial. In truth, poker—particularly Texas Hold'em—is an American import that has seamlessly integrated into the fabric of Australian society over the past few decades. Like the rest of the civilized world, Australians have enjoyed card games for leisure and profit since the colonial era, mastering classics such as five hundred, euchre, Swedish rummy, hearts, and fish. Acquiring proficiency in these games has laid a solid foundation for successful poker playing.

Before the 1990s, most Australians' understanding of poker stemmed from Hollywood films that made their way across the Pacific. Nevertheless, it was the emergence of the internet that propelled poker to center stage. In the beginning, online chat relay games eventually transformed into the initial internet poker establishments by the late 1990s. Within a short period, Draw Poker, Omaha, Texas Hold'em, and 7 Card Stud became essential components of not only Australian but also worldwide vernaculars.

In 1997, a remarkable event took place in Melbourne when the Crown Casino introduced its inaugural poker tables. The subsequent winter, the casino hosted the Australasian Poker Championship, a tournament boasting a prize pool of $74,000. While this may appear modest by today's standards, it paved the way for the Australian Poker Championship in 2001, which featured a $200K prize pool. By 2003, the annual tournament had gained international recognition and boasted a prize pool exceeding $1 million. Today, the tournament, rebranded as the Aussie Millions in 2014, offers an impressive prize pool of over $6M. One memorable highlight from these tournaments was Daniel Negreanu's triumphant victory, clinching first place with a humble pair of twos in the final hand. In addition to these events, Australia has played host to numerous other prestigious poker tournaments, including the WPT, APT, APPT, and many more.

The year 2005 marked a transformative moment in the Australian poker scene when Melbourne's Joe Hachem emerged victorious at the World Series of Poker. His staggering $7.5M win undoubtedly inspired a new generation of Australians to embrace the game. Several other renowned Australian poker players have made their mark on the global stage, such as Antanas Gouga (a retired Aussie with over $4M in professional winnings), Mel Judah (a two-time WSOP bracelet winner in 1989 and 1997), Mark Vos (an Australian and South African player with a 2006 WSOP bracelet win), and Marsha Waggoner (known as The Grand Dame of Poker and a member of both the Women in Poker Hall of Fame and the Australian Poker Hall of Fame).

In 2013, another significant milestone occurred with the introduction of the inaugural WSOP Asia Pacific tournament in Melbourne. This annual event, now a fixture in the poker calendar, showcases ten distinguished competitions each October. The timing is impeccably aligned, as the poker community eagerly anticipates the resumption of play by the November Nine shortly after the conclusion of these captivating tournaments.

The gambling landscape in Australia bears some resemblance to that of the United States, with each state having its own unique set of gambling regulations. However, one notable difference is that gambling is legal across all Australian states, albeit subject to varying rules and restrictions depending on the region. Currently, the country boasts over a hundred poker tables dispersed across numerous esteemed land-based casinos, such as the Crown Casino chain, Adelaide Casino, Cairns Reef Hotel Casino, Poker Palace Sydney, and several other top-tier venues. Furthermore, video poker and poker machines enjoy immense popularity in Australia. Despite having a considerably smaller population than the US, the Land Down Under has five times the number of poker machines. Poker's prevalence in Australian society has occasionally raised concerns. It is estimated that between 80,000 and 160,000 Australian adults (approximately one percent of the population) grapple with significant gambling problems, while twice as many face moderate gambling issues.

As the Australian Poker Championship tantalized the public's interest in poker, Australian online casinos provided a veritable feast for enthusiasts. With round-the-clock accessibility to global platforms, Australians flocked to online poker sites in the early 2000s, playing, triumphing, and carving out their niches in the poker world.

This thriving era persisted for over a decade until the Interactive Gambling Act of 2016 came into effect. The legislation significantly impacted the online poker landscape in Australia, particularly for offshore operators. Although the bill's primary objective was to suppress illegal sports betting, it inadvertently imposed restrictions on offshore gambling sites, encompassing online poker platforms as well.

Consequently, a large-scale departure of offshore gambling sites ensued, with major operators like 888 Poker, PokerStars, and Partypoker exiting the Australian market. Nonetheless, several sites continue to cater to Australian poker players, ensuring a reasonable array of options for those eager to engage in online poker hands.

The poker landscape in Australia has undeniably experienced a tumultuous past, and its future, particularly in the realm of online poker, remains uncertain.

Nonetheless, a glimmer of hope may be on the horizon. The Australian government has recently begun exploring the possibility of licensing online poker platforms as onshore businesses. Should this materialize, these platforms could resume service offerings akin to those before the enactment of the 2016 Gambling Act.

As for Australia's live poker scene, its future appears decidedly more stable. With numerous poker rooms and casino venues dispersed throughout the country, poker enthusiasts can indulge in live poker games without constraints or restrictions.