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Online Poker Ban - Australian Gambling Industry Rocked by IGAB16

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The long-pending Australian ban on online poker has finally made it through the legislative process and has become law after the formality of the governor-general granting royal assent. The Senate dropped the amendments that it had added to the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill of 2016 and agreed to the House's version of the text on Aug. 9, 2017. PokerStars has stopped serving Australian players as of Sept. 11, 2017, so AU residents are not able to play at the largest online poker site in the world. 888 and Party Poker have also quit offering games in Australia too.

What Does the Bill Do?


The 2001 Interactive Gambling Act was intended to make casino games and poker played over the internet illegal to offer to Australians, but the way the law was worded unintentionally created a loophole that companies exploited to be able to successfully operate. The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill of 2016 was introduced to the House of Representatives in October 2016 in order to firm up the language and remove this escape clause. There are provisions in the law allowing properly licensed organizations to offer poker online, but there isn't any body currently set up to grant such licenses, and no section of the just-passed bill establishes one.

The penalties for violations include fines that can exceed 1 million dollars depending on the severity of the offense. The important thing to note for individuals is that there's nothing in the entirety of the bill that makes playing online poker a crime. It is only those entities actually providing the games that are at any risk at all.

Strangely, sports-betting is permitted under the auspices of the new legal regime although there are some restrictions, such as the rule that live, in-play wagering isn't allowed. This casts doubt on the sincerity or intelligence of the lawmakers because they have said that the purpose of the legislation was to counteract the harmful effects of problem gambling. Yet, if this were so, would it not be equally as bad, or even worse, for gambling addicts to bet on sports as on poker?

PokerStars no real money gaming in your country warning!

The reasons for the prohibition of online poker aren't really clear. Because it involves politics and money, though, we can take a guess that this legislation was driven by the desires of big movers and shakers eager to protect their profits. Individuals like James Packer and enterprises like Tabcorp may have gotten tired of seeing money flying from their prospective customers' pockets into the hands of organizations outside the country. The blanket ban on internet poker games may give way in the near future to a tightly regulated regime in which only local companies that meet stringent requirements are allowed to operate. It's highly likely that this would create a ring-fenced player pool consisting only of Australian players, which would be a fraction of the size of the traffic at worldwide poker sites.

Is Internet-Based Poker Dead in Australia?

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Despite what many fear, there are still some sites willing to take their chances and serve their faithful Australian customers. Companies that operate within highly regulated frameworks, such as that enforced in the United Kingdom, must often curtail their activities in “gray” markets or risk losing their licenses, and almost all of them have either closed their doors to Australia or are expected to do so shortly. 888poker, which exited the market in January, is an example of this type of firm.

Other internet poker groups and networks aren't worried about this because they have opted to fully accept the challenges of running their businesses in many unregulated markets. These operators house their businesses in jurisdictions that allow online gambling and online gambling advertisement world-wide, in accordance with well-established World Trade Organization rules. Ignition poker is one such offshore poker site operator, and in fact, it just recently started accepting Australians. The new situation in the country mirrors that in the United States where there are plenty of places to play regardless of the strong-arm tactics sometimes employed by the federal and state governments.

The Fight Against the Interactive Gambling Amendment Act

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As the amendment wended its way through the convoluted procedures involved in passing a law, including first readings, second readings, amendments, and debates, opposition to it began to make itself known. The Australian Online Poker Alliance is a grassroots organization created to advocate for the interests of regular players, and it did its best to oppose the bill. Senator David Leyonhjelm was successful in getting his colleagues to agree to an inquiry into online poker, and the AOPA urged people to file submissions documenting their personal experiences with the game by the July 21 deadline. The inquiry was expected to report on its findings in mid-September, which caused many to assume that the final passage of the Interactive Gambling Amendment Act would be postponed until that time. Unfortunately, the Senate dashed those hopes by acting before the report was delivered.

The deadline for presenting the report was extended, and it was finally delivered on Oct. 18. Some were hoping for a clear position in favor of the legalization of online poker gaming, but this isn't what the report called for. Instead, it directed the government to conduct more study on the effects of various regulatory approaches, including both a complete prohibition as well as liberalization. The committee seemed very reluctant to proceed with any attempts to establish a regulated online poker market until strong consumer protections are put in place. It recommended that no expansion of internet gambling occur until the establishment of the National Consumer Protection Framework, which is not expected to be completed until the end of this year though it may take significantly longer.

Almost from the time the bill was introduced. Senator Leyonhjelm has been quite vocal about his opposition to it. His efforts ultimately failed, but he acquited himself with honor in the fight for freedom and individual liberty. At the second reading of the amendment in the Senate on March 20, 2017, Senator Leyonhjelm had this to say:

I oppose the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. It is paternalistic, nanny-state legislation…caught up in this bad legislation are hundreds of Australians who enjoy a flutter on online poker…I believe individuals have a right to make decisions for themselves, no matter whether we would make the same decisions ourselves…Finally, if the legislation passes, I would like to take this opportunity to give some advice to online poker players. Notwithstanding the risk of offshore hosts, screw the government: get yourself a VPN and an offshore account and carry on as you were. And I wish all of you the best of luck.

Senator Leyonhjelm and a collegue also contributed additional comments to the Senate report on online poker. They urged legalization and made the case that poker doesn't carrry the same negative consequences as most other types of gambling. However, their views were attached at the end of the report rather than being contain within the body. It's clear that the other members of the committee did not share Leyonhjelm's views.

Recommendations for Australian Poker Fans

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While we appreciate the sentiments expressed by Senator Leyonhjelm, there's no need to go to the trouble of using a VPN. In fact, doing so could cause you some inconvenience as you'd have to also acquire a foreign address and bank account to receive your cashouts. The helpful AUS online poker guide we've written on the best poker sites to play at for Australians contains a listing of those operators who will legitimately accept your action without any VPNs or other funny business. Ignition Poker is our #1 pick because of its heavily trafficked poker room and $2,350 in welcome bonuses ($1,350 for poker and $1,000 for casino). Other great promotional deals exist at other sites too, like Intertops, which ran a special tournament series for Australians that featured frequent and sizeable overlays. The officials in Canberra can try to tell you what you can and can't do with your own money, but this doesn't mean you have to listen to them!

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The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 is certainly the piece of Australian legislation that has had the greatest impact on the internet poker landscape. Still, there are other laws that come into play too. To find out more about them, check out this page explaining the law regarding online poker in Australia.

Though we can't say for certain what the situation will be like for moving money around to and from offshore gambling sites, it's likely that you might face additional difficulties that were not present before. You may be able to avoid these hassles by conducting all your poker banking with the decentralized digital currency Bitcoin. If you don't know how to use it for online poker, don't worry: We'll show you how in our walkthrough on getting yourself set up with BTC.