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Australia's National Consumer Protection Framework: Hidden Agenda?

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On Nov. 30, 2018, Australia's Department of Social Services announced in a press release that “all Australian governments are now formally committed to the country’s first National Consumer Protection Framework.” (NCPF) The stated purpose of the Framework is to protect online gamblers from the harms associated with this industry, and its provisions will be rolled out in stages over the next 18 months.

Australia's National Consumer Protection Framework

About the NCPF

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The NCPF has been in development for years. It started as a response to the 2015 O’Farrell Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering, and it has morphed and changed over time as the various Australian states raised objections and engaged in negotiations about its terms. Getting all parties involved to agree to a single set of proposals took some doing, but the last holdout, Queensland, finally dropped its opposition and joined with the other states and territories in backing the arrangement.

The National Consumer Protection Framework consists of 10 points. Although they're not all slated for immediate implementation, the plan is to eventually have a standardized set of minimum rules that apply to all licensed online betting throughout Australia. This would represent quite a change from the current situation where the various jurisdictions across the country maintain their own separate and often disharmonious gambling rules. The 10 measures described in the Framework are:

  1. Prohibition on lines of credit
  2. Elimination of gambling funded by payday lenders
  3. Stricter customer verification requirements
  4. Restrictions on bonuses and other promotional offers
  5. Ability for users to close their accounts
  6. Voluntary deposit limits
  7. Mandatory activity statements for customers showing wins, losses and spending
  8. Consistent messaging standards
  9. Staff training
  10. National self-exclusion registry

Australia's Minister for Families and Social Services, Paul Fletcher, is a strong supporter of the NCPF. He had the following to say about it:

“The Commonwealth and all the state and territory governments will implement the suite of measures within the National Framework over the next 18 months. The agreement to these measures by all governments means consumers will be protected, no matter where they live in Australia…The measures are designed to reduce the harm that can be caused to individuals and their families by excessive or at-risk online wagering.”

Photograph of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher, MP for Bradfield and Minister for Families and Social Services

Our Initial Thoughts

Gears in a Human Head

You have to give at least a little bit of credit to the Aussies with regard to their recently-constructed National Consumer Protection Framework governing online wagering in the country. As you read through its provisions, some of them actually sound like they care about the problem of gambling addiction and are trying to do something to help those who suffer.

As always in any legislative procedure, however, there is a degree of emphasis placed on protecting sacred cows – particularly revenue-producing ones – at the expense of making a complete job of it. In addition, there is quite a bit of feel-good, useless window dressing that will make no difference whatsoever in anything.

What is fascinating to note is the one proposal that the Australian Government undoubtedly cares very deeply about. In fact, once you fix upon this one major change in the law, you quickly realize that everything else merely serves as cover for ramming this idea through without anybody noticing. This critical proposal is cleverly cloaked in a mantle of extremely vague diffidence as if it was just a minor afterthought that everybody can figure out later – rather than it being the crucial and entire raison d'etre of the whole sordid scheme.

Inconsequential Measures

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So important is this one seemingly imprecise little idea that it is safe to say that the Australian Government would gladly scrap all nine of the other points if they could just slide this one past the unwary eye of the inveterate gamblers Down Under. While they may be sincere about their desire to help people with many of the provisions, on this one point, they definitely have their fingers crossed when they solemnly pronounce how good and nice they are to help you out with this.

First off, of the 10 separate features of the NCPF, perhaps two of them – Staff Training and Consistent Gambling Messaging – are simple boilerplate politics that are there apparently because the text's authors were being paid by the word.

Next comes the series of minor administrative reforms that are dear to the hearts of bureaucrats planet-wide. The Payday Lenders provision sounds nice but payday lenders offer a more complete societal scourge than any level of gambling. The Australian Parliament could have done the country a real service by outlawing these vultures entirely. Severing the official links between payday lenders and gambling houses is not going to stop the practice at all, which will continue unabated, but it sure sounds helpful.

Equally useless are the noble-sounding options for someone to self-limit their gambling through various technocratic means. Hey, it works for heroin addicts, right?

The prohibition against lines of credit being offered actually sounds like something demanded by the gaming industry itself. These lines of credit are probably a loss leader due to the proclivities of gambling addicts and often leave the house in the hole even when they win. But they have to compete against other establishments that do offer lines of credit. Eliminating them industry-wide is probably a legislative intervention welcomed by the industry.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others

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But now it's time to take a look at the one outlier of the group – good old lucky 7 on the list. This element is known as Activity Statements. What is interesting about these new activity statements is that they are not so solidly ordained as some other things on the agenda.

Whereas the government wants very precise standards for staff training and various protective measures such as the one-size-fits-all message regarding the risks associated with betting your house on the flip of a coin, this new proposal for individualized activity statements is comfortably vague on what it is all about – and for good reason.

On the face of it, the idea is that every gambler is to be given an individual activity statement, which will be something like a monthly bank statement showing what was gambled and how the wins and losses played out. By their own admission, the idea is (supposedly) to increase consumers' awareness of their spending, wins, and losses. Whether that has any impact on anyone's behavior is a moot question and really not relevant to the real intention of it.

How little the government cares about this report is found in their provision that every gambling establishment is welcome to craft its own experimental statement during a 12-month introductory period "to ensure the design of activity statements meets user needs." Well, you can bet that none of these privately designed statements are going to meet the needs of the users. Why? Because the user that the government wants to meet the needs of is actually itself.

One Statement to Rule Them All...and in the darkness bind them

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After 12 months of getting everyone accustomed to these ridiculous trifles, some blue-ribbon panel will examine the issue and find that there exist many complaints and much confusion about all these separate statements. With that fact firmly established, they will then go on to design a universal activity statement that every online gaming provider will have to use.

And then the government will finally have what it actually lusts for: an inescapable accounting of every penny you bet in every online establishment in the land. They could care less if you win or lose, but they will be very interested in compiling a massive database of information on the spending habits of citizens.

You only make $60,000 a year, according to your tax returns, but have a statement showing that you bet 3 million dollars and lost it all? Uh-oh. Your full gambling history, not just a record of your big wins, is about to become the property of your benevolent Australian Government. Perhaps the busybodies at various governmental or quasi-governmental social organizations will take it upon themselves to review this information to decide who is and is not a problem gamer and intervene based on this determination.

Being the swell-minded people that they are, you can rest assured that they are only doing this for your own direct benefit and to help you overcome your addiction to gambling. After all, that's what it says on the proposal, isn't it? And who would expect these blokes to lie to their constituents?

Once this proposal reaches its final implementation stage, you do not need to worry about Big Brother watching you. Your favorite gaming establishment will be doing it for him and filing a comprehensive monthly report on your activities.

You can rest assured that all manner of other entities, public and private, will find this big data valuable. If these records are leaked or hacked, the privacy of citizens would be compromised. A review of the recent data breach in Victoria involving the personal details of emergency services workers shows how real this threat is.

Maybe We're Wrong

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Of course, the scenario outlined above may strike some as unaccountably pessimistic and a form of conspiracy-mongering. We invite our readers to consider for themselves how honestly and transparently their public servants have historically adhered to their stated goals without engaging in any type of shadiness. After contemplating this matter for a while, we urge you to draw your own conclusions.

Online Gaming Penalized

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As many observers have noted, the new NCPF sets up a more restrictive environment for real money online gaming than that in existence for live gambling. Australia is well-known for having more physical pokie machines – i.e., slots – than any other country in the world. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that powerful brick-and-mortar casino firms, like Tabcorp and Federal Group, are exerting their influence behind the scenes to deter online competition.

Australia has already made significant moves to disrupt the internet wagering economy in the country. The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill, which became law in late 2017, effectively made online casinos and poker rooms illegal. Yet, there are some 20 terrestrial casinos, many hosting poker tables, dotted across the Australian landscape.

Apart from an exemption crafted for lotteries, this legislation basically left one single form of online wagering available to Australian punters: licensed sports betting. Even this limited product menu has seen government action targeting it, like the imposition of tough gambling advertising rules in March 2018.

Betting Firms React

People Talking

It would be understandable for the existing Australian online sportsbooks to look with dismay upon the NCPF as unwanted interference in their affairs. However, this wasn't their reaction at all. Industry group Responsible Wagering Australia (RWA) released a statement in which it expressed its views on the matter:

Responsible Wagering Australia welcomes today’s announcement that final agreement on a National Consumer Protection Framework for online wagering has been reached between the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments.

RWA and its members have been amongst the leading advocates for higher industry standards and stronger safeguards to protect consumers.

The key idea to keep in mind here is that the RWA consists of large and powerful gambling corporations, like bet365, Betfair Australia, and Ladbrokes, that have already obtained licensure in the country. Having already borne the costs of the licensing process, they're now incentivized to keep would-be competitors out. Setting up complicated and unclear regulations is one way of achieving this end.

RWA MembersA Few of the Members of Responsible Wagering Australia

Unlicensed Online Gambling Still Present

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Of course, while Australia squeezes hard on the licensed gaming outlets, it risks applying too much pressure and seeing traffic head over to unregulated sites instead. These offshore operators are accustomed to laughing off longwinded sermonizing from politicians, scoffing at the threat of fines, and ignoring point of consumption and other taxes.

Officials in Canberra are well aware of this flouting of the law, and they have empowered the Australian Communications and Media Authority to go after these miscreants. Whether on their own initiative or at the…“urging” of the Communications and Media Authority, many offshore gaming sites have voluntarily left the country. They include PokerStars, PartyPoker, Pinnacle Sports, Intertops, and the Chico Poker Network.

Enterprises Forced to Leave Aussie Gambling MarketSome of the Gaming Companies That Have Left Australia

Yet, quite a few unlicensed organizations still happily accept custom from Australian users. One of them is Ignition Casino, which began transacting with Aussies in September 2017 and has been doing so without interruption ever since. Newcomers to Ignition get a 100% up to $1,000 bonus to play poker and an identically sized bonus to use in the casino. Read our Ignition Poker review for more on this trustworthy company.

One thing that Ignition lacks is a sportsbook, though, so avid bettors on sports may wish to instead head over to Bodog88, which has a full menu of wagering options: poker, casino, live casino, and sportsbook. It also has a 100% up to $1,000 poker bonus along with various offers for its other gambling divisions. Consult our Bodog88 review for all the details.

For other fine internet poker possibilities that are offered to residents of Australia, browse over to our Australia online poker guide.