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Australian Punters and Overseas Operators Faced With Restrictive Changes in Online Gambling Laws

December 6, 2016 Lifestyle 1 Comment Email Email

It’s little wonder that the new gambling legislation looming over Australia is generating such a negative response and waves of uncertainty going back and forth between the Land Down Under and its favourite offshore operators. For all intents and purposes, Aussies are known as avid gamblers, and so far they’ve been able to freely indulge in the joys of casino games, poker, sports betting and lottery offered to them by a wealth of offshore companies. Despite the ambiguously formulated online gambling laws interspersed with numerous grey areas, Australian punters have been blissfully unaffected by the restrictive clutches of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, as the legislative prohibitions outlined in the act relate to operators, and not specifically the individual consumer. In this sense, Australians can and do gamble online entirely within legal bounds.  But the situation may soon change for the worse if the new Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 is passed.

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New Bill to Combat Negative Effects of Offshore Wagering

Technological advancements have seen an increase in interactive gambling lately as Australians are turning to mobile devices, smartphones and tablets instead of gambling at land-based establishments. The convenience of mobile betting is the driving force behind the growth of internet gambling, with other advantages including accessibility, larger selection of products, anonymity, privacy and the ability to gamble at home. But there are some unique features to this form of gambling that put users at additional risks such as unreliable technology, less secure financial transactions and unlicensed black market companies.

Introduced by the Commonwealth Government as a response to an overwhelmingly negative Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering within the Australian borders, it is supposed to enforce a collection of aggressive measures for the purpose of better control of the online gambling environment in the country. More specifically, the new laws revolve around a multi-faceted strategy with key actions involving at-risk consumer protection, preventing illegal offshore companies from soliciting Australians and changing certain definitions to more accurately describe the services that were already prohibited under the IGA.

In-Play Betting Redefined

What seemingly served as a trigger for the amendment was a so-called in-play betting feature which allowed a number of bets to be placed via the Internet – an action that breaches the restrictions enforced by the IGA and as such is considered illegal. However, some Australian licensed operators found a way around this by installing a special software that allowed customers to simulate a mobile phone call and place wagers via computers – known as “click to call” betting– which is permitted under existing laws. It is a loophole that technically does not violate any existing law and goes around it to make the illegal legal in a way, and that was a major cause of concern for the safety of vulnerable Australian consumers targeted by unscrupulous operators.

However, the government officials have been announcing aggressive measures in dealing with online gambling regulations since 2013, and back in September of 2015 the former Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison, formally declared the intent to review illegal offshore wagering and its impacts on consumer, problem gamblers, the economy of the country and individual states and the government. Final report was provided at the end of the year and scheduled for public release in 2016.

Even though the aim of the new bill is directed at protecting punters, many across the industry question the priorities and whether the offshore gambling is the most urgent of problems that require an immediate solving. Statistics show that a vast majority of problem gambling is related to land-based poker, but there is no mention of this issue in the new legislation. Sports betting is right behind in generated revenue, but also in total losses accumulated in 2015, and is likely to have produced a considerable chunk of losses caused by problem gambling within this year. It is important to note that offshore companies do not pay taxes or fees to Australia, do not report suspicious betting activity to law enforcement agencies and gambling associations, which prevents the government from regulating the flow of money circulating within this market which is estimated at around $1 billion, although it is impossible to precisely pinpoint the figure.

What This Means for Foreign Operators

New measure should see a reduction in offshore companies offering services to Australians, and what exactly this means for foreign operators without the Australian license is uncertain. Some well-known operators have already pulled from the market leaving Australian punters with less choice when it comes to reputable online casinos which can easily cause more problems with punters being forced to turn to rogue companies. Sports betting companies like William Hill, Ladbrokes, Betfair, SportsBet, Unibet and Bet365 face less problems because they have already acquired licenses, but others like PokerStars or PartyPoker which are based in New Jersey have tough decisions to make, as online poker and casino remain prohibited in Australia, as opposed to sports betting and lotteries.

The Government currently has no plans to legalise online in-play betting, and requires a strong regulatory framework to be established before any future expansion of the online gambling market is considered.

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Marc says:

    I just hope that nothing extreme is going to happen in Australia and that all new measures will provide a better service to all players.

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