Much noise was made about consumer protection and responsible gaming when the prohibitionary Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill was passed by the Australian Parliament in August 2017. It has now been more than a year since it went into effect, and so we'd like to take the time to evaluate how well it has achieved the goals politicians have hoped for it.
Although foes of real money wagering had intended to block offshore gaming outfits from accepting Australian custom with the 2001 Interactive Gambling Act, loopholes in the language of the law rendered it ineffective. Thus, the push began to firm up the provisions of the Act, and the Interactive Gambling Amendment was born.
After much debate and negotiation, this bill proceeded through the legislative process and became law in 2017. It prohibits betting firms not licensed by a competent Australian regulatory body from doing business in the country. Violators are subject to fines that can go as high as AU$7.9 million per day, and even those who merely advertise unlawful gambling can be subject to penalties.
Because there's no licensing framework in place for online poker, bingo, or casino games, the bill basically outlawed these activities. Betting on sports and lotteries are the only legally authorized wagering pastimes now offered over the internet to Australian gamblers.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) was given broad powers by the government to go after companies that it determines are breaking Australian gambling law. In the months since the passage of the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill, it has not been shy about exercising these powers.
The ACMA employs a number of strategies to dissuade online betting firms from transacting in the Australian market. It liaises with regulatory bodies the world over to put pressure on violators and threaten them with possible revocation of their gaming licenses in their home jurisdictions. The Authority also sends cease-and-desist letters to operators who are breaking the law, informing them that possibly mammoth fines await them should they not mend their errant ways. In some cases, it even communicates with third-party payment processors and web hosts to get them to cease transacting with the targeted companies.
The ACMA doesn't exactly release a press statement every time it works to evict an internet gaming provider from the scene, so we don't know precisely which organizations were targeted. Nevertheless, there has been a virtual stampede of gambling enterprises that have headed through the Australian “exit” door.
Because many other countries theoretically ban online gambling yet haven't witnessed a mass exodus of online wagering sites, we can only conclude that the ACMA is at least somewhat responsible for this phenomenon. The entities that have stopped accepting customers from the Land Down Under include:
The Communications and Media Authority authored a report in October 2018, about a year after it began its serious crackdown against offshore gambling sites. The overall tone of the document was self-congratulatory, claiming that significant progress had been made in combating the threat of illicit online wagering.
The ACMA said that over the year-long period covered by the report, “33 of the most popular gaming sites withdrew from Australia.” This success was the result – or so the story goes – of 77 investigations conducted by the Authority, both on its own initiative and by following up on complaints and inquiries submitted to it by members of the public. Citing figures from Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, the report foresees offshore gambling spend decreasing by 50% from 2017 to 2018 with total expenditure for 2018 somewhere in the ballpark of AU$200 million.
The ACMA listed 12 cases in which “enforcement action is continuing.” The government body vowed to employ a number of strategies to deal with non-compliant actors, including:
“escalating enforcement activities against non-compliant services. This may include notifying directors or principals of offshore gambling services to Australia’s border protection agency for inclusion on the Movement Alert List, or commencing litigation in the Federal Court of Australia to apply civil penalty orders against non-compliant services and/or individuals knowingly concerned in their operation.”
Of course, the ACMA's rose-tinted description of an army of progressive government workers advancing, stride by arduous stride, to a world in which all illicit betting services have been kicked to the curb isn't believed by everyone. Even in its own report, stats from H2 Gambling Capital project that 2018 offshore gaming expenditure will be just 7% lower than in 2017: quite a different matter than the 50% reduction cited elsewhere in the text.
It's not as if gamblers in general are clamouring for a clampdown on foreign sites. In a recent study of Australians wagering on domestic real money gaming outlets as well those preferring international ones [Gainsbury, S., Abarbanel, B., & Blaszczynski, A. (2018). Factors influencing Internet gamblers’ use of offshore online gambling sites: Policy implications. Policy & Internet. https://doi.org/10.1002/poi3.182], only 19% of respondents said that licensure in Australia was a factor inclining them to select one site over another. Among the other elements that properly licensed operators can be expected to boast about, only 5% of customers listed consumer protection and a mere 2% pointed to responsible gaming features as things they cared about.
On the other hand, unregulated websites confer a host of benefits to their users. As the study's authors noted:
“…offshore sites also allow greater consumer choice, which can offer some benefits in the form of diversified product offering, potential payouts, and gambling experience. This is consistent with a free-market perspective, that consumers should be provided with more choices at more competitive prices…”
The Australian Online Poker Alliance is sceptical of the narrative put forward by the ACMA. This player advocacy group was opposed to the Interactive Gambling Amendment and is working to get internet poker relegalized in Australia. Its founder, Joseph Del Duca, explained that while 33 unlicensed operations may have indeed left the Australian market, they have been replaced by others. Del Duca, who also works at Global Poker as Head of Communications and Social Media, elaborated:
“During our campaign we have spoken with thousands of Australian poker players. To a person, nobody we have spoken to has stopped playing. They have merely shifted to different sites.”
Not only have alternate sites picked up business from the now-departed rooms, but these new destinations for Australian online poker are frequently inferior to the ones that have left and often expose users to additional risk.
Joseph Del Duca made reference to play money social poker apps, which are advertised as being for practice play only. However, through the use of third-party agents who convert the fake chips back and forth for real money, it's possible to bet, raise, and call for actual cash. Players' funds are thus at the mercy of the agent who can run off with the loot if he's dishonest, leaving users open to a type of fraud that's not present at mainstream offshore poker sites.
By removing reputable and longstanding corporations from the Australian online gambling environment, the ACMA subjects customers to the whims of shady and fly-by-night organizations. In endeavouring to protect Australian citizens from the depredations of online gambling, the ACMA may be merely making things worse.
Australian efforts against online gambling aren't restricted to just international firms that are breaking the law. There have been moves to make life difficult for licensed enterprises as well.
Point of consumption taxes mean that internet bookmakers must pay not only the levies demanded by their licensing jurisdiction but also additional sums depending on where in Australia the customer is located. Victoria recently passed an 8% PoC tax, which is effective starting Jan. 1, 2019.
Meanwhile, tough Australian gambling advertising rules came into force at the end of March 2018. They prohibit broadcasters from running betting ads during coverage of sporting events. Advertising is one of the main ways for online sports betting sites to attract customers, so this restriction has a definite impact on their bottom lines.
The much-lauded National Consumer Protection Framework (NCPF) was designed – so we are told – to safeguard the naïve public from the ill consequences of online wagering. It consists of 10 elements, from a ban on lines of credit for gaming purposes to a national self-exclusion registry, that political leaders contend will fight problem gambling and lead to a safer experience for all bettors. The NCPF's provisions were finalized in November, and they will be rolled out slowly over an 18-month period.
We cannot help but wonder: If the NCPF is such a positive development, then why are its mandates only going to be applied to the online sphere rather than also being compulsory for brick-and-mortar wagering facilities as well? Perhaps there's some behind-closed-doors politics taking place here, maybe involving Tabcorp and other prominent land-based gaming interests.
With a growing number of trustworthy online gambling services departing Australia and even legitimately licensed businesses feeling the squeeze, you might be wondering if you have any recourse as an ordinary bettor. This is especially true if you enjoy internet poker and casino games, which no AUS-licensed concern is able to provide. Fortunately, you have better options than to engage in surreptitious wagering with the underground and possibly disreputable apps that have sprung up to serve a real market need.
You see, some upstanding companies have elected to remain in the country while thumbing their noses at the ACMA and other meddlesome busybodies. They're willing to take the entire legal burden of doing so on themselves – as a private customer, you aren't targeted by any legal proscriptions on using any of these sites.
We recommend that our Australian readers explore the possibility of registering with Ignition. It houses a casino (including Live Dealer games) and a poker room. Indeed, it is the largest offshore poker site available to residents of the Land Down Under. You'll get a 100% up to $1,000 poker bonus upon making your first deposit. Go to our review of Ignition Casino Poker for more details, including signup instructions.
One drawback to Ignition is that it lacks a sportsbook. However, its sister site Bodog88 does let you bet on sports in addition to playing in the poker room and casino. Consult our detailed Bodog88 Poker review for further info.
If you'd like to know more about your possibilities for virtual card games at tried-and-proven online sites, then brose over to our guide to online poker in Australia.