Back in the late 1990s, Internet gambling was still a new concept and was yet to be explored. And it can be said that Australia was among the first countries to adopt some sort of a regulatory framework that responded to a growing demand for this type of gaming and sports betting offering.
Although the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 was a voluminous legislative piece, it did not lack crucial deficiencies that fenced the local market with fuzziness over what was legal and what was not. Online sports betting and lotteries were the only activities to be explicitly legalized under the country’s law. There were no prohibitions in relation to the provision of other types of Internet gambling options, including slots and table games, and online poker, but these were not specifically listed as legal, as well.
The Australian iGaming market has turned into a highly lucrative one and has maintained that status for years. Different international operators, including some of the industry’s big names, have been offering their products to local players, despite the fact that they have been operating in a gray area.
However, the past several years have been marked by high-profile lobbyism for certain changes to be implemented in the way the market is regulated. By saying high-profile, we mean multiple calls and actions from Australian politicians.
Following last year’s publication of a final report of the Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering, Australian Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge presented in November the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 (IGA Bill 2016). In a nutshell, the legislative piece aimed to amend the country’s existing iGaming laws in a manner that would prohibit the provision of unlicensed and therefore illegal online gambling services to local players, as well as the promotion of such services.
In other words, if it signed into law, the bill would declare online casino games and poker illegal. Sports betting operations will not be affected that heavily, as this type of offering is legal under the country’s existing laws. However, international bookmakers will have to obtain a license from local regulators in order to be able to continue operating in the local market.
What Would an Amended Law Mean for International iGaming Operations?
As already noted above, Australia’s online gambling market is one that has drawn the attention of top-tier operators. What is more, those top-tier operators have been voicing increasing happiness and contentment with their Australian operations.
Australia is by no means the first country to have considered the implementation of stricter iGaming regulations. And regulations are a necessity, even a must, in a multi-billion industry. Regulations mean certain control over the way iGaming services are provided, certain needed restrictions. The implementation of these restrictions also demonstrates the involvement of all concerned parties in the provision of socially responsible services.
On the other hand, multiple examples can be provided of the negative effects brought about by the over-regulation of one iGaming market or another. And declaring online gaming options that have long enjoyed great popularity with Australian players illegal may not be the best possible approach to market re-regulation.
Major gambling operators, including 888poker and Vera&John, have already closed their doors to local players, others such as PokerStars are awaiting the implementation of the proposed amendments to leave the market immediately after. The afore-mentioned are all popular brands that have been trying over the years to maintain reputation of ones that tend to avoid markets on the verge of regulation and to absolutely avoid black markets.
Given the great momentum the IGA Bill 2016 has already gained, there is an actual chance that it is signed into law. And despite the many prohibitions to be introduced, there certainly will be operators that will keep accepting local players. Unlicensed operations are not something new to the regulated iGaming environment.
It is not on rare occasion that offshore operators with questionable operations, questionable financial practices, questionable ownership, and questionable player payment policies target markets with explicit gambling laws. Given Australia’s established reputation of a destination with great potential, it will certainly turn into a big target for such companies. And bearing in mind that there will not be licensed iGaming operations to compete with, these companies will be able to allure more easily players who will, in turn, be presented with the unfair dilemma to either turn to the black market or not play at all.
In other words, by prohibiting online poker and other forms of Internet gambling, the Australian government may expose local players to predatory operations, instead of protecting them from those. What is more, the country will thus lose tax money that could go into its coffers, if it provides interested iGaming operators with the chance to apply for a local license and thus be taxed for doing business Down Under.
The New Market Regulations and Online Poker
It can be said that online poker is quite a big thing in Australia and this is why the topic will be covered in detail in a separate article. However, it should be said that the announcement about the pending amendments of the country’s gambling laws have upset, to say the least, the local online poker community.
It has turned out that the number of people who have been playing the game on the Internet for a living is quite big. And if online poker is prohibited, this would mean that these people will have to part with a gainful occupation.
The initial shock in the days after the IGA Bill 2016 was introduced was quickly replaced by all those players’ determination to take actions against the proposed changes. The Australian Online Poker Alliance was created to help Australia’s online poker community in its efforts. And their efforts are now directed towards changing the government’s stance on online poker and including the game as a legal online gambling activity.
News emerged over the past several days that their actions have already yielded certain positive results. More special attention to their progress will be paid in the next of what will be a series of publications dedicated to the latest developments related to the proposed amendments in Australia’s interactive gambling regulations.