In a semi-surprising move, 888 Holdings has decided to pull its online poker games from Australian markets with less than one week of notice to players!
An official email was sent out to online poker players with 888 poker accounts registered in Australia today. It was not good news. Here is the main content of the email:
Following a business reevaluation, we’d like to inform you that 888poker’s services are not being offered to players residing in Australia and therefore your account will be closed as of 16/01/2017.
You’ll continue to be able to withdraw all funds from your bankroll using our web cashier.
If you’ve already registered to any of our tournaments starting from 16/01/2017 onwards, please unregister as you won’t be able to participate.
What is all the fuss about? Well there is a proposed amendment being considered by Parliament to the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001, the Interactive Gambling Regulations 2001, and the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005. This amendment which can be found on the Australian goverment's website here, poses a major threat to online poker and it looks as if it has claimed its first victim with 888. PokerStars has also publicly stated that they will withdraw from the Australian markets if the bill is passed. One would expect all publicly traded companies as well as companies that operate in regulated markets such as Italy, France, UK, Spain, Portugal, and the United States of America to also withdraw their services for fear of triggering "bad actor" clauses by operating in an "illegal" market.
The Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 is already purported to cover online poker and define it as a "prohibited gambling service" under the law. A prohibited gambling service being defined roughly as "a game of chance played for anything of monetary value." This definition is not contested (though it should be with regard to poker), but the offices overseeing the enforcement of the Act will change. You see, up until this point in time, the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Australian Federal Police were responsible for enforcing this law. There is however jurisdictional complication and ultimately, the AFP says it is not their problem to deal with. This has allowed online poker to continue operation.
The new amendment will transfer the obligation of enforcement to a different branch of Australian government, namely the Australian Communications and Media Authority. The amendment calls for sweeping powers to be handed over to the ACMA in order to enforce this bill. Powers such as creating a register of all illegal operators and sharing that with other countries. Seizing the assets of employees of "prohibited gambling services" who reside in Australia as well as banning said employees from even entering the country! But that is nothing compared to the fines that can be levied. Fines of up to six million per day can be levied on companies deemed to be illegally providing gambling services and the executives of those companies can be fined as much as one million per day on top of facing criminal charges!
This amendment has teeth. And gambling companies have noticed. 888 was the first to flinch and flee the market. Who will be next and what will Australians who simply wish to play online poker in the privacy of their own homes do?
Step one is to complain. Make your voice heard far and wide. Here is a Change.org petition worth signing, and it almost has its required number of signatures. Also, here is a link to a petition hosted at the Australian Taxpayer's Alliance that you should share with others on Social Media to spread the word.
Secondly, you can participate in the public debate and do more research. Here is an ongoing discussion at public poker forum 2+2, where new information is being revealed all the time. You will find links to your various representatives that you can email and call in order to have your voice heard.
Thirdly, you should withdraw your funds. 888 says that their web cashier will still be active, and we believe them. But these sorts of situations can escalate quickly and there is no point in leaving anything to chance. Mark your calendar and withdraw your funds ASAP to be sure you maintain access to them!
Lastly, if you refuse to comply with this assault on your liberties, you can take your business to other Australian-friendly poker sites that will accept your business no matter what. If the US markets are any example, sites will continue to service the Australian poker scene because they rely on International Trade Law/World Trade Organization rulings for legality. It is complex, and the market becomes gray, but you will most certainly be able to continue to play online poker safely. Sites such as Black Chip Poker on the Winning Poker Network and BetOnline on the Chico Poker Network are examples of high quality operators who take this legal approach. You also may want to brush up on your Bitcoin gambling knowledge. Players in the USA have been going through this rigmarole for half a decade now since Black Friday and Bitcoin has become the saving grace for them. Bitcoin transactions allow them to continue to play the game they love and enjoy as well as receive fast and anonymous payments when they cash out their winnings, and Bitcoin will almost certainly be just as useful to the changing poker market in Australia as well.