The Melbourne Cup, Gambling and the Cognitive Surplus

That wild, wonderful thing that is Wikipedia has changed our lives in all sorts of subtle ways. Gone are the vast bookshelves of leather bound tomes that held me in thrall as a child – and in their stead is a white page, an empty search field and a button.

Amazingly, as Clay Shirky reminds us, Wikipedia was built by a global collective donating 100 million hours of time to its grand vision. But this cognitive surplus is just a drop in the ocean of time that is spent by Americans watching television each year – estimated to be many times that number.

Now, while this is fascinating as a data fact, what I am more interested in is the substitution that is taking place. You see, for 100 million people to donate one hour of their time – a deliberate choice is being made. The choice is to create rather than to consume. And the thing is – as humans, we seek the pleasure of consumption over the cold choice of decision. We have to be driven to act. Compelled. Consumption, after all, is the easy way.

Now think about the current debate in Australia around the regulation of gambling. Clubs across Australia are claiming that these regulations will impact their ability to employ people and to support the community through their charitable giving and community support programs. But as Ben Eltham points out, most clubs direct a miserly proportion of their revenues into such programs:

Or examine the Rooty Hill RSL, also in Sydney’s western suburbs … Poker machines raked in $43.2 million of the club’s total operating revenue of $64.7 million … [with only] $601,000 [spent] on donations.

What would happen if INDIVIDUALS actually chose where to invest their “community support” programs? I’d actually be keen to see some small percentage being funnelled into a microloan style service or even an insurance fund to help problem gamblers (but that is a whole other blog post).

Today, on Melbourne Cup day, the folks over at have put together this infographic that images what could be done with all those wagers being made at the track and at betting agencies across the country. Makes you think – what good could we do if we made better decisions? What indeed.


One thought on “The Melbourne Cup, Gambling and the Cognitive Surplus

  1. One thing you didnt factor in… The Melbourne Cup draws in millions of tourists which in turn boosts businesses. What people can do is give a portion (even a bit) of their bet or win to charity. Also the cup is the premiere event to raise funds for charitable institutions too.

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