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Australia – Australian Senate bans online gaming nationwide

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Alan Tudge

The Australian Senate has moved to effectively ban online gaming across the nation having approved the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016.

Having passed through the upper house of the Australian Parliament, the ban will take effect within the next 30 days.

The bill will ban unlicensed online casino and poker operators from targeting Australian players. Australia’s current regulatory framework, doesn’t allow online gambling companies to apply for a license giving them no opportunity to operate legally in the market.

Operators such as 888poker, 32Red, and Gaming Innovation Group had already exited the market.
The passage of the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 (the Bill) will see a crackdown on illegal offshore providers, the clarification of the law in relation to ‘click to call’ in-play betting and a prohibition on wagering providers offering lines of credit.

The Government believes there is too much of a conflict of interest for a gambling company to be both a betting provider and a bank offering credit to facilitate that betting.

These important reforms are complemented by the Government’s media reform package which includes further restrictions on gambling advertising during live sports programs.

Alan Tudge, Minister for Human Services, said: “These changes will be complemented by other significant consumer protections that have been agreed with the states and territories, including a national self-exclusion register and a voluntary opt-out pre-commitment scheme. Together, these represent the most significant set of online gambling reforms introduced by a federal government. The Bill will crack down on illegal offshore gambling providers, ensuring that more money and jobs are kept in the country. It will also ensure that Australians are not inadvertently funding crime syndicates, which some overseas providers are connected to.

The specific measures in the Bill to do this include amending the law to make it clear it’s illegal for overseas gambling companies to offer products to Australians unless they hold a licence under State or Territory laws.

The bill will empower the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with new civil penalties, complementing existing Australian Federal Police criminal penalties powers and allowing ACMA to be responsible for the entire complaint handling process from receipt to enforcement.
It will also introduce other disruption measures to curb illegal offshore gambling activity, such as placing offending company directors on the Movement Alert List so any travel to Australia can be disrupted.

The O’Farrell Review estimated between $64m and $400m is spent on illegal online wagering services, with a further $100 million annually lost in taxation revenue and product fees which are important to help fund support services for problem gamblers.

Minister Tudge said that these reforms will make a significant difference in keeping money and jobs in Australia and providing sensible consumer protections for gamblers.

“We are presently losing hundreds of millions of dollars to illegal offshore gambling providers, some of which are connected to crime syndicates. These changes will help keep this money in Australia,” he said. “Online gambling has three times the rate of problem gambling than other forms and is growing the fastest. Unless we put in sensible consumer protections now, the problems of the future will be in this area.

“These reforms, along with the other initiatives we are implementing with the states, provide a safer gambling environment, while still allowing people to enjoy a punt.”

Mitch Fifield, Minister for Communications, said the stronger enforcement mechanisms for the ACMA will crack down on the hundreds of illegal gambling services that are easily accessible on the internet.
“The new powers will allow the ACMA to implement civil penalties for breaches of the IGA provisions, plus they will make the complaints process, and investigations, easier.

“We will also publish online lists of licenced wagering providers in Australia which will help punters identify legal sites,” Minister Fifield said.

The penalties are believed to be as high as $1.35m a day for individuals and $6.75m a day for organisations.

Mr. Fifield said: “With the law being clarified, it is evident that a number of these operators have begun withdrawing their services from Australians. Whilst I appreciate that this is not welcomed by those individuals who have been using these services, it is a fact that online poker has always been a prohibited service under the act. It is not something that this bill is enacting. Whether online poker should be legal in Australia or not is a separate debate.”

Many believed the Senate would leave its decision until mid-September so that the results of a report into online poker could be considered.

Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm, who initiated an inquiry into Australians’ online poker participation, said: “I think Australia is rather silly to take a prohibitionist approach. Online poker is probably the most innocent of all gambling, it’s more of a game of skill, not just some sort of vacuous pull of a handle.”

Joseph Del Duca of the Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA) added: “Whilst it was unfortunate that the government did not wait for the Senate Inquiry findings to come through, we urge Australian poker players to not give up hope. Our game is not dead and we will continue to campaign for safe, legal online poker when the Senate Inquiry is handed down. Our call for a safe, regulated online poker market in Australia is still the only option that provides freedom for players, revenue for the government and protection for those in need.”

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