Anzac Day, two-up and its legal history

Posted 22 April 2016

Anzac Day is typically known around the world for its commemoration of Australians' and New Zealanders' ultimate sacrifice. Those in government legal jobs have ensured the actual date marks the anniversary of our soldiers landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. 

For many, it is a time to spend with family. For others, Anzac Day is spent at the pub and the Returned and Services League (RSL) club. Those that follow the latter course of action may run into several people playing two-up. This traditional Australian game has a special legal and cultural relationship with the Anzac holiday.

Two-up is the Australian game of chance where a spinner would use a specially designed piece of wood to flip two coins in the air. Individuals would then place bets on how the coins would land, either with both heads up, both tails up, or one head and one tail up.

As the game is a form of gambling, it is, like others, tightly regulated by state law. Yet, it's held in high respect by Australians and is played in part due to its ability to create shared experiences with diggers. This is one of the reasons why it is allowed to be played on Anzac Day, but only under strict regulations. 

For instance, the Gambling (Two-up) Act 1998 of New South Wales and the 2.3.2 of the Gambling Regulation Act in Victoria both permit games of two-up on Anzac Day under certain conditions. 

The New South Wales legislation sets out that a game of two-up is legal if it does not have a participation fee, the venue the game is taking place in does not have an entry fee and the game is not-for-profit. In Victoria, the law states that any RSL club that is approved by government can host a game of two-up.

Interestingly, the New South Wales Act outlines a number of special conditions for two-up games that are held in Broken Hill. Section 9 specifically states two-up games can be played if they are council run or the council has approved the venue. 

The reason for Broken Hill's privileges is the town's special relationship with local miners and itinerate rural workers. While the game is a form of gambling, its strong presence in Australian history has embedded the simple game of chance into our national character.

So when you see locals at the RSL having a quick game, remember the many generations of Australians that played the game before you. From the trenches of World War I to the gold fields of the eastern colonies, two-up is more than a game, it is an integral part of the Australian psyche that has been forever immortalised by those in legal jobs and the Australian general public.