Tue. Jan 21st, 2020


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Sports Gambling and The 1930s Great Depression

The Great Depression of the 1930s was an economic catastrophe that severely affected most nations of the world, including Australia. In fact, given Australia's dependence on exports, in particular wheat and wool, Australia was one of the hardest-hit countries in the Western world.

Between 1929 and 1931, GDP declined by more than 10%, whilst the unemployment average between 1930 and 1931 was 23.4%. The economic state of Australia continued to decline and by 1932, a staggering 30% of the nation was unemployed. This was the second most severe unemployment rate in the industrialised world, exceeded only by Germany. Despite slow improvements during the mid-1930s, the unemployment rate remained between 15-20% almost the entire way through to WWII commencing in 1939.

During this period, there were many incidents of civil unrest in the Eastern States, in particular in Sydney, and Australian's needed an escape. It's widely accepted that one such escape was sport, however it's not often reported that a further escape came in the form of sports gambling.


After being thrashed by 4-1 the touring English side in the 1928/29 Ashes Series, the Australians headed to England in 1930 armed with a talented youngster named Donald Bradman and a much higher level of confidence.

Five Test Matches later, and the Aussies had beaten the English 2-1 and Bradman had scored an incredible 974 runs. That moment signalled one of the strongest era's of Australian cricket and they would go on to record 22 wins, 8 draws and 10 loses between 1930 and 1938. In addition to this, Bradman would go on to score 4,625 runs at 102.78 in 33 Tests during this period, ensuring Australians who fancied a bet on the leading run scorer would be rewarded more often than not.


Between 1930 and 1938, the major award winners in the VFL were arguably the most predictable ever and as such, provided a punters with a high probability of return.

The Collingwood Football Club won three premierships during this period (1930, 1935 and 1936) whilst Geelong (1931 and 1937) and Richmond (1932 and 1934) won two each. In addition to this, only four players in the history of the game have won three Brownlow Medals and two of which came during this period. Haydn Bunton Snr was a champion on-baller for Fitzroy and won the coveted prize in 1931, 1932 and 1935, whilst Essendon champion Dick Reynolds won the medal in 1934, 1937 and 1938. Finally, the leading goal-kicker award was also dominated by two men, Gordon Coventry who kicked 700 goals between 1930 and 1937, and Bob Pratt who kicked 679 goals between 1930 and 1939.

Horse Racing

Whilst Cricket and Australian Rules Football were the punter's favoured team sports of the 1930s, the sport which provided them with the biggest financial reward was most certainly Horse Racing and this was largely due to one horse, Phar Lap. The worst three years of The Great Depression were 1930-1932 and this just so happened to coincide with Phar Lap's peak.

In these three years, Phar Lap's list of major race wins included:

1930: Linlithgow Stakes, Futurity Stakes, Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Stakes
1931: Cox Plate, Melbourne Stakes and Underwood Stakes
1932: Agua Caliente Handicap

Deeper analysis reveals just how reliable Phar Lap was for punters, as highlighted below:

1929-30 Season: 20 races, 13 wins & 3 places
1930-31 Season: 16 races, 14 wins & 2 places
1931-32 Season: 10 races, 9 wins

Nicknamed. "The People's Horse", and for good reason, Phar Lap saluted punters 78% of the time ensuring many shared in the spoils of victory. In a historical context, figures such as these haven't been seen in Australia until just recently with Black Caviar.

In a period where Australians were faced with so much uncertainty on so many levels, the most popular Australian sports of the 1930s were more predictable than ever before. This predictability ensured Australians could place a bet on a sporting contest knowing that they have a good chance of winning some money.

During this time of extreme financial hardship, the chance to, "Earn a quid or two," would often mean the difference between eating well or not eating at all. In addition to this, it raised spirits of those experiencing stressful times and the importance of this can not be underestimated.

As a result of The Great Depression, the rate of suicide in Australia jumped from 10 in 100,000 to 24 in 100,000 and one can safely assume that this rate would have been much higher had sport not delivered results which both lifted the mood of Australians, as well as providing them with an important source of funds.


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