Nobody knows how many people pawn valuables to fund a bet on the Melbourne Cup or a ticket in a big lottery like Tuesday's $100 million OzLotto.
But Laurie Ward, the manager of the Aceben Loan Office on George Street in Sydney remembers an experienced punter who pawned a flashy piece of Las Vegas jewellery to raise $20,000 for a Melbourne Cup bet. ''The horse came in second,'' he said, refusing to provide more details about the losing punter.
Whether others will be selling grandma's rings or expensive Rolex watches is not known. What is known is that next Tuesday is shaping up as one of the biggest betting days in Australian history, something anti-gambling campaigners say is normalising the activity.
As much as $500 million could be wagered on Tuesday across Australia. About one in every two Australian adults - approximately 7.5 million people - would buy a ticket in Tuesday's $100 million OzLotto, Elissa Lewis, public relations manager at Tatts Lotteries, said.
The jackpot could exceed the $100 million guaranteed if out- the-door queues continue in the lead-up to Tuesday's draw. When Tatts guaranteed a jackpot of $90 million in 2009, the amount grew to $106.5 million as excitement increased. In addition, about 5.7 million people will have a flutter on the Melbourne Cup; some will also be buying an OzLotto ticket.
Last year, bets on the Melbourne Cup exceeded $143 million. According to Tabcorp, it took $93 million from 9.3 million bets placed in Victoria and NSW. Total bets on races that day were worth $182 million, five times as much as normal spending on a routine race day.
According to Nicholas Tzaferis, Tabcorp's manager of corporate affairs, recent trends showed a 4.5 per cent increase in wagers from July and September. Whether sales of Lotto tickets would undermine bets on the Cup was unclear: ''We're entering territory we've never entered before with a jackpot of that size on Melbourne Cup day,'' he said.
Even political junkies will have plenty of opportunities to bet on the outcome of the American presidential election. InTrade, a betting site, says the probability of an Obama victory is running at 67.5 per cent.
For anti-gambling campaigners such as Tim Costello, the chairman of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce, children who end up with a gambling addiction will bear the long-term impact of the big day.
The ''gambling tsunami'' was sending the message to children that gambling was normal, state sponsored and a mainstay of fun and recreation, he said.
In the past, gambling was cordoned off around racing, Reverend Costello said. ''Now you have [gambling on] cricket, AFL and the American presidential elections. Everything has been turned into gambling,'' he said.