Australia’s Online Poker Legalization Effort Gains Greater Support and Media Attention

If there is one particular thing we have learned about Australia over the past several months, this would be that it has one of the tightest online poker communities in the world. Late last year, local players woke up to the news that the provision of online poker services could become illegal. In March, they woke up to the news that the provision of online poker services would become illegal.

Many would just accept what lawmakers have decided without putting up even a little bit of a fight. Not Australia’s online poker players. They quickly geared up for a big fight and have been exerting a great, gigantic even, amount of effort into changing the government’s mind.

Last November, Australian Human Services Minister Alan Tudge introduced the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016, which practically called for the prohibition of unlicensed iGaming services, online poker included. The legislative piece was heavily promoted as one that would put much-need clarity over what was legal in the country and what was not.

Several iGaming operators left Australia’s gray market shortly after the bill was introduced, with Vera&John, 888poker, and 32Red leading the way. Others like PokerStars said that they would exit the market as soon as the proposed legislation came into effect.

Minister Tudge’s proposed crackdown on online gambling quickly gained support among lawmakers and was eventually approved by the government in March 2017. The law is yet to be enacted, but when this happens, unlicensed online casino and poker operators will be banned from servicing Australian customers. And if they decide to stay in the market, they could be subjected to heavy fines of up to A$6.75 million and other penalties.

Although the proposed amendments to Australia’s online gambling laws were generally welcomed by lawmakers, there were still government officials who opposed their implementation. Sen. David Leyonhjelm, who represents Australia’s Liberal Democratic Party, became one of the biggest advocates of an effort started by the Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA).

The AOPA was created by local online poker players who opposed the addition of online poker to the list of illegal online gambling operations. Among other things, members of the non-profit organization have strived over the past several months to convince lawmakers that while online poker may be a favorite pastime to many, there is also a great number of Australians who play the game for a living and that such players would practically become unemployed.

Their effort has gained quite a lot of support and media attention, with local and international outlets covering the latest developments on the topic. And what is most important, their effort eventually yielded certain positive results. Supported by Sen. Leyonhjelm, the AOPA managed to convince the government to at least hear online poker players’ arguments why a framework for regulated online poker should be crafted.

An inquiry into the state of Australia’s online poker and into players’ opinion on the pending regulatory changes was launched earlier this summer. In addition, the government’s Environment and Communications References Committee held the Participation of Australians in Online Poker hearing on August 1, during which committee members were presented with arguments by players, both enthusiasts and professionals, as well as by scholars and other parties keen to talk.

The hearing’s full transcript can be read here. Generally speaking, participants produced reasons why it would be much better for Australia’s online poker to be properly regulated and why a ban on the game could produce quite undesirable effects.

Among other things, the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 was presented as a legislative piece that aimed to protect vulnerable gambling customers from becoming victims of unregulated and murky operators.

However, online poker opponents believe that once the provision of the game is banned in Australia, players with only be left with two options – to relocate to a place where poker is legal or to resort to the services of those feared murky operators. For laws would certainly not prevent such questionable companies from trying to attract players.

The Environment and Communications References Committee has until September 21 to compile and present a report, based on what it had learned from the hearing as well as from submissions by other people who took part in the inquiry. The report is hoped to eventually change lawmakers’ mind and to make them consider the creation of a regulated online poker environment.

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