Page last updated at 12:16 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 13:16 UK

Australia firm takes jobless bets

Jobless queue
Almost one million Australians are forecast to be unemployed by 2011

Australian betting firm Centrebet has come under fire for offering odds on how many people will be unemployed when official figures are released in June.

The shortest odds are for the country's jobless rate to rise to 5.6% or 5.7%, up from 5.4% in April.

But politicians and the Salvation Army have slammed the bets, calling them "unacceptable" and "distasteful".

Centrebet admitted the bets were "socially sensitive" but said they were becoming increasingly popular.

'Distasteful'

"Taking bets and making money out of the misfortune of the unemployed is as distasteful as it gets," said Queensland state Treasurer Andrew Fraser.

"I think the people at Centrebet need to revisit this issue and accept that this is an unacceptable practice," he added.

Brad Halse at the Salvation Army was equally affronted.

"At the very least, this is extremely distasteful," he said.

"If they have to frame a gambling market, it is only appropriate that they try and be sensitive to the very real tragedy of the many instances of people losing their jobs and struggling," he added.

'More popular'

But Centrebet defended the practice of betting on the number of unemployed, saying that punters were quite taken with the new bets.

Media chief Neil Evans conceded that the issue was "obviously somewhat socially sensitive", but argued that it gave "punters, well away from the usual betting mediums of sport and racing, a chance to play expert in a field that's becoming more and more popular".

And the attitude of one job seeker helps to explain why.

"Maybe if Centrebet staff were being made redundant they might change their minds about making light of something so serious," Rebecca Galton told local media.

"Still, I might place a bet myself. I could do with some extra money right now."

The Australian economy is facing a sharp recession as demand for commodities like iron and copper have slumped.

The Australian central bank has already cut interest rates to a 49-year low, and the Australian government has pledged a Aus$50bn ($30bn, £20bn) rescue plan.



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