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Online Poker in Australia Resurrected?

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In a surprising development, Australian Senator David Leyonhjelm released a statement saying that the recently enacted online gambling prohibitions may be altered to exempt online poker. Leyonhjelm, leader of the Liberal Democrat party, has been one of the strongest opponents of the Interactive Gambling Amendment 2016, which passed earlier this year and had the effect of prohibiting poker played over the internet from Australia. This led to the exit of 888poker, PokerStars, PartyPoker, and many other real money gaming firms from the country.

David Leyonhjelm saves Australian online poker?

About the New Policy

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Although nothing is set in stone yet, and the situation is fluid, it seems that Leyonhjelm has been involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations to promote the interests of poker players. Communications Director Mitch Fifield indicated that his department is now studying ways of setting up an online poker licensing program. Political commentators have reported that Senator Leyonhjelm has been able to gather parliamentary support for online poker licensing in exchange for backing a media law reform package that the government is putting together. The senator said:

I believe we have won the 'in-principle' battle. The question now will be how to make it happen in practice”. He expounded further, “I will maintain close contact with Minister Fifield and his Department to ensure this matter maintains momentum. Australian online poker players deserve to have a safe, regulated environment in which to enjoy their pastime and not be forced into using offshore sites”.

Leyonhjelm will very likely attempt to craft a pleasant online poker landscape with low tax rates, global player pools, and easy-to-meet licensing rules. However, he may face pushback from those who want to form a tightly supervised poker economy that incorporates high barriers to entry for outside firms. Those who can be expected to pursue this path include Tabcorp and others with a significant presence in the current Australian legal gambling scene. It will be fascinating to see how these two conflicting goals interact with each other and combine to create whatever the final outcome will turn out to be.

What This Means for Players

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Because none of the details of the closed-door negotiations have been published, we have no way of knowing any of the particulars for certain. It's likely that nothing significant will take place until the ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the participation of Australians in online poker reports its results, which is expected sometime in the middle of October. It could be the case that internet poker traffic will be ring-fenced, i.e., Aussies will only be able to play against each other, but on the other hand, the government might permit shared liquidity with global player pools. Senator Leyonhjelm hasn't mentioned anything about casino games, like blackjack and roulette, so it's likely that they will still be prohibited. Sports-betting is already allowed under existing law for licensed firms with the exception of in-play wagering.

Existing Online Poker Options

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Regardless of how the current political maneuvers play out over the coming months, offshore operators will probably continue serving games within Australia. These organizations might not curtail their unlicensed presence in the market even if a few of their competitors go through whatever regulations the authorities set up for poker licensing. The history of legalized online gambling frameworks in other jurisdictions, such as Spain and the State of New Jersey, shows that high taxes and restrictive rules often mean that any fully legalized internet poker sites that do emerge tend to be on the smaller side. This leaves room for nimble poker companies to operate as “gray” market entities, and they're often an order of magnitude larger than other businesses that opt to comply with every jot and tittle of the law. There are exceptions, of course, like the United Kingdom where low tax rates and a reasonable level of oversight have led to the properly licensed sites also being the biggest.

Don't Wait for Canberra to Act

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Senator David Leyonhjelm is a friend of poker players, and his long experience with the ins and outs of the legislative process means that he's probably the best individual to lead a successful push for a favorable Australian online poker climate. Yet, you don't have to put all your hopes on his shoulders. You can sign up at one of the several offshore poker rooms that still accept Australian customers. Our number one recommendation is Ignition Poker, which will give you up to $2,350 ($1,350 for poker and $1,000 for casino games) in total bonuses when you sign up. For other ideas on where to play, check out our guide to online poker sites for Australians, which lists half a dozen other reputable poker sites that have been serving Americans since Black Friday struck down their access to the rest of world player pool.