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Mention gambling and glitzy images of Las Vegas come to mind. But you'll be surprised to know Americans are not the world's biggest gamblers. In fact, the world’s biggest gambling nations include plenty of unlikely candidates.
The rankings are based on data from H2 Gambling Capital, a consultancy based in London. They take into account average gaming losses (the amount bet and never recovered) in a year divided by the adult population in over 200 countries. The numbers include money lost on all types of betting including horse racing, poker machines, lotteries and casinos during 2010.
Read on to find out the countries with the biggest losers and the boldest gamblers.
By Geraldine Tan
(Posted: July 5, 2011)
Gaming Losses Per Adult: $418
Gaming was legalized in Spain in only 1977 and gambling of pure chance (slot machines) was legalized in 1981. Spaniards love to bet on everything from football to cards to the lottery.
Spain’s Christmas lottery called "El Gordo", or the Fat One, is the only lottery draw in the world to award more than $1 billion in prizes. Last year, an estimated four in five Spaniards bought this lottery ticket, even at a price tag of 200 euros ($286).
Lottery-crazy Spaniards helped Loterías y Apuestas del Estado, the organizer of the draw, to earn just under 10 billion euros ($14.4 billion) in revenue last year.
Faced with a mounting fiscal deficit, the Spanish government plans to sell 30 percent of the company and raise up to 7.5 billion euros ($10.8 billion) in the second half of 2011.
Gaming Losses Per Adult: $420
Greece boasts of one of the most legendary gamblers of all times — Nicholas "Nick the Greek" Dandolos. He died almost penniless at the age of 83 in 1966, having lost all his winnings, which were estimated to be worth almost $500 million in 2009 in inflation-adjusted terms.
Lotteries are among Greeks’ favorite ways to gamble. In 2010, the “Joker” lottery accumulated a record jackpot of 19 million euros.
The country is also home to Europe's biggest gambling company, OPAP, which has a market cap of about 4.1 billion euros. Its privatization, to be finalized by 2012, could help the government pay off some of its debts.
Gaming Losses Per Adult: $448
Lotto, scratch cards, slot machines and football bets are Norwegians’ favored ways to gamble. In a survey carried out by the government in 2008, 88 percent Norwegians confessed to being lifetime gamblers. It also found that gambling addictions occurred most frequently among young men who had previously played on gaming machines.
That’s despite the fact that the country has made efforts to make gambling less accessible — reducing the number of slot machines in the country to 10,000 from 22,700 machines in July 2007.
That hasn’t slowed Norwegians love for betting and many gamblers have turned to playing poker online forcing the government to threaten blocking or filtering online gambling operations.
The state-owned gaming company, Norsk Tipping falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs — and posted revenues last year of $2.1 billion.
Gaming Losses Per Adult: $503
Casinos are outlawed in Hong Kong, but the world’s biggest gambling center, Macau is just an hour’s boat ride away, and in the first-quarter of 2011, half a million Hong Kongers visited Macau.
Within Hong Kong, horse racing, lotteries and soccer betting are the only forms of gambling allowed. Little wonder, The Hong Kong Jockey Club is a major draw and a cultural fixation in the territory. The club hosts some 700 races a year and earned $2.7 billion in betting and lottery revenue in 2010.
The people of Hong Kong are famous for their gambling habits. According to a medical research carried out by the University of Calgary, an estimated one in 20 Hong Kongers have a gambling disorder.
Another survey by Hong Kong-based Caritas Addicted Gamblers Counseling Centre found that of the 1,040 students interviewed, more than half were introduced to gaming by their parents. And 41 percent said they started as young as age 6.
Gaming Losses Per Adult: $517
Italians’ favorite gambling activity is to play electronic gaming machines such as slots. According to a 2010 study conducted by strategy and business advisory firm MAG Consulenti Associati, electronic gaming machines generated nearly half of Italy’s total gaming revenues in the first half of 2010. During just that six-month period, gaming revenues totaled $22 billion in the country.
Italy is also credited with inventing the popular game Baccarat, and for opening the world's first government-sanctioned casino in Europe back in 1638, called "The Ridotto" in Venice.
The Venetian government finally shut the casino’s doors in 1774 in an effort to preserve the city’s “piety, sound discipline and moderate behavior”.
Gaming Losses Per Adult: $553
Forty-one percent of adult Finns gamble every week, according to a study by Finland's Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in 2007. The minimum age for playing on a slot machine has just been raised to 18 in July 2011, from just 15 previously.
But that’s not the only quirk when it comes to Finland and gambling. The country’s national lottery company, Veikkaus is entirely owned by the government and is actually run by the ministry of education. Most of the profits of the company are allocated to education, arts and culture.
The Paf Group of Finland, which runs an Internet gambling company, has an interesting "pay back" scheme for loyal customers. If you have spend at least 120 euros ($171.40) on its site and are certified by a medical professional to be suffering from a gambling addiction, you are entitled to a maximum of 10 therapy sessions, worth up to 2,300 euros ($3,284).
Gaming Losses Per Adult: $568
Over 75 percent of adult Canadians gambled on some form or the other, last year. The biggest gamblers come from the potash-rich province of Saskatchewan, which has an average gambling revenue per person (aged 18 and above) of $841, against a national average of $527.
The most common gambling activities in Canada are lotteries and Scratch and Win cards.
Canadians’ love for lotteries runs deep, so much so, that the government has set up a national initiative to raise awareness that lottery tickets are inappropriate gifts for minors. This came after criticism of parents who often included a lottery ticket their children’s Christmas stockings.
Gaming Losses Per Adult: $588
Ireland’s casino industry is currently entirely unregulated because the country is governed by an outdated Gaming and Lotteries Act of 1956. The law allows only bona fide members’ club to provide casino services.
Under the Act bets on a gaming machine cannot exceed 6 pence while prizes are capped at 10 shillings. No wonder, the law cannot be enforced as the Irish pound has not been legal tender since 1999 and the country is now trying to enact new legislation.
The Irish government has just given the green light to build a Las Vegas-style sports and leisure complex in Tipperary at an estimated cost of 460 million euros ($668 million).
To be completed in three years, the venue will house a hotel, a casino, an all-weather racecourse, a greyhound track, a golf course and even a full-size replica of the White House, which will be used as a banquet facility.
Gaming Losses Per Adult: $1,174
Singapore opened its first casino a little over a year ago but it’s already the world’s third largest-gaming center after Macau and Las Vegas and it’s set to overtake Vegas this year.
The decision to allow casinos to be built in the city-state has created plenty of worries that Singaporeans may end up getting hooked to gambling. The government has tried to discourage local gamblers by imposing an entry fee of S$100 ($80.50) for citizens who want to enter a casino.
Authorities have also implemented a "Family Exclusion Order," that allows a family to ban relatives from visiting casinos.
But the measures have done little to dampen enthusiasm for gambling. Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, has forecast that Singapore's gaming revenue could hit $6.4 billion in 2011, outpacing Las Vegas, which earned $5.8 billion in 2010.
Gaming Losses Per Adult: $1,288
You know a nation is crazy about gambling when a gaming company offers people a chance to bet on whether the central bank will raise interest rates or not.
Besides that, Australia is the only place in the world that allows online wagering on sport but prevents gamblers from using the internet to place bets during live games. But that may soon change as the government has agreed to review laws following intensive lobbying from the country’s major sports bodies.
Slot machines — known locally as pokies — are by far Australia’s favorite game, with an estimated 75-80 percent of problem gamblers hooked on them, according to the country’s Productivity Commission.
New South Wales, with 100,000 poker machines accounts for half of the nation's total number of poker machines. According to the state’s Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, 935 gamblers registered themselves to be banned from casinos between 2006-2010, but were caught 1,249 times for breaching their own ban.