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Australia’s PM Scott Morrison a Threat to Online Gambling?

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After replacing former Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbell as prime minister following an August 2018 inter-party spat, Scott Morrison prevailed in federal elections on May 18 to retain his post. Now that he has earned the confidence of the electorate as a whole, we feel it is appropriate to go over what this portends for Australian online poker and gambling.

Scott MorrisonScott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia

Background

Two Books

Prior to becoming prime minister, Morrison was treasurer of Australia from September 2015 to August 2018. During his three years in this position, Morrison shook up Australia’s gambling industry in more ways than one, and that has led to a population of gamblers who are not certain what his position on the subject of online gambling (and gambling in general) is. Now that he is at the helm of the nation, Australia’s gamblers are trying to figure out just what, exactly, the future holds for them.

On one hand, Morrison is very much a fan of gambling because of the tax revenues it brings to both Australia’s federal government as well state governments. On the other, Morrison has condemned offshore online casino and poker sites under the guise that they are “predating upon Australians right across the country.”

Most betting over the internet was prohibited by the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill of 2016 (actually passed into law September 2017). This includes real money casino and poker games. Sports betting online is allowed, but only to entities properly licensed by an Australian gambling regulator.

In an attempt to uncover what, if anything, Morrison’s ascension to the PM position means for online casino and poker players in Australia, we will highlight a few of his past remarks and actions.

Morrison and the Pokie Industry’s Influence

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Shortly after Morrison took the treasurer’s seat in 2015, he made it a point to discuss the evils of problem gambling specifically as it relates to offshore gambling sites. In his 2015 Father’s Day address, he explained that more than 400,000 Australians deal with gambling addictions that lead to all sorts of other problems, such as domestic violence, drug use, and poverty. Morrison focused on “illegal” offshore gambling sites as being the main source for this, but he curiously neglected to mention the legal gambling options utilized by Australians.

According to The Guardian, 64% of Australia’s problem gamblers admit that they are addicted to the video poker and slot machines (pokies) that can be found at pubs and other establishments all throughout the country. A 2010 estimate from the Productivity Commission of Australia claims that around 40% of revenues stemming from gambling machines come directly from the pockets of problem gamers.

As part of this report, the Productivity Commission recommended changes that could be made to help mitigate the impact of losses on problem gamblers. Some of these recommendations included capping max bets at $1 and having gamblers establish a maximum loss amount before they begin playing. As you might expect, however, efforts to implement these recommendations were short-lived and eventually killed off by those who have a vested interest in the pokie industry.

When Independent Andrew Wilkie announced that he would work to implement the recommended reforms, groups like ClubsNSW and the Australian Hotels Association began pumping money into Morrison’s Liberal-National Coalition. Unsurprisingly, Morrison responded by saying that implementing new regulations on pokie operators was not something he and his colleagues saw as a priority. Rather, Morrison said that his party would see “how we can better provide protections in the gaming environment for those who are legal operators, and to protect Australians who can fall prey to the offshore illegal sites.”

Logos of ClubsNSW and the Australian Hotels AssociationLive Gambling Concerns, like ClubsNSW and the Australian Hotels Association, Are Donors to the Liberal Coalition

Without digging much further, it is clear to see that Morrison was much more interested in preserving tax revenues from legal gambling than he was in combating problem gaming itself.

An Effort to Preserve and Increase Tax Revenues

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If the above was not enough to convince you that Morrison could not care less about the afflictions of gambling addicts, his efforts to increase taxation on online gambling in 2017 might just do the trick. At this time, a 15% point-of-consumption tax aimed at online gambling operators was proposed.

Though the tax was to be taken by state governments for use within the state from which they were derived, Morrison made it clear that he intended on carving out some of that money for the Federal Government. State treasurers liked the idea of the Federal government overseeing the new Point of Consumption tax but were wholly opposed to the idea of sharing that money with the Federal government. Still, Morrison insisted on this being a necessary step.

After taking all of this into consideration, it is unsurprising that Australian gamblers and online gambling businesses alike are concerned about what the future holds with Morrison in the Prime Minister’s office. Those who are hoping for state-sanctioned online casino and poker games are rightfully discouraged thanks to Morrison’s blatant affinity for brick-and-mortar operations.

At the same time, those who currently play poker or casino games at offshore sites are equally concerned because of Morrison’s insistence that offshore sites are the biggest contributor to problem gambling in the country. Despite this belief being proven false, there is still plenty of worry that Morrison will be actively working to derail efforts to legalize online poker and casinos. It will be interesting to see what the future holds, but early indications are that the Morrison government will want nothing to do with any sort of expansion of online gambling.

This is all the more obvious when we reflect upon the fact that the National Consumer Protection Framework has not yet been deployed in full. This collection of measures to safeguard consumers is widely viewed as a precursor to any possible expansion of internet gaming in the country.

Scott Morrison and Gambling

There Are Still a Few Offshore Sites Remaining

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Though the Australian Communications and Media Agency is proud of its ability to drive online poker operators out of the country, it hasn't yet achieved complete victory in this field. There are organizations spreading poker games online that still accept Australians.

Though they're subject to heavy penalties, they and their principals are located in other jurisdictions, far away from the reach of Australian law enforcement, so they're pretty safe. Furthermore, all the laws that criminalize this activity do not target individual players at all, so there's no risk to you personally if you boot up your computer and play at a few online tables.

Take a look at our guide to Aussie-friendly online poker sites for further information on these reputable cardrooms.