Vera&John, a Malta-based online casino brand, announced in late December that it was shuttering operations in Australia as market regulation is looming Down Under. The online casino became the first to leave the local market and it would not be a surprise if other, bigger, gambling operators follow suit in the weeks and months to come.
Although Vera&John informed its Australian players that its exit was based on a business decision, it is actually quite clear that the reason lies behind the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016, introduced to the Australian legislature by Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge. In a nutshell, Minister Tudge’s proposed legislation calls for the implementation of clear-cut definitions of what is legal and what is not in terms of online gambling.
For instance, the bill is concerned with in-play sports betting and the way it is provided to local customers. In Australia, bets of this kind can only be placed via a telephone call. However, offshore gambling operators have exploited certain loopholes in existing laws for years by creating smartphone applications that made it possible for players to make in-play bets without using telephones. If Minister Tudge’s bill is signed into law, an end will be put to these practices.
Another important thing to take into account is the fact that online casino games and poker are not explicitly illegal in Australia. However, when and if the new law is adopted, the current status quo will change, bringing tough times for online casino operators and poker rooms providing their products to Australian players.
Vera&John has likely put the beginning of what may turn into an iGaming operators exodus or a mass departure of operators from the local market. In November, when first news about the possible new regulatory regime emerged, PokerStars was quick to confirm that it would probably leave the market, if the proposed legislation became effective.
The world’s largest online poker room has been keeping a low profile and tacitly avoiding unregulated markets in hopes to clean its tarnished reputation before US regulators and lawmakers and possibly return to more regulated US markets and ones to be regulated in near (and not-so-near) future. The brand launched online operations in New Jersey in March 2016, boosting the local market significantly.
Here it is important to note that the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 is yet to be subjected to further consultation, discussions, and review. In other words, more changes to it may be implemented; ones that could make the Australian gambling environment more offshore operator-friendly or ones that could turn Australia into a forbidden territory for those same operators.