Australia’s highly contested Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 has received Royal Assent from Governor Peter Cosgrove. This means the legislative bill is all set to become adopted into Australian law. With the last gambling law implemented in 2001, the local government felt it was time for change.
The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill first emerged in November of last year as a product of Australian Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge. Tudge’s intent was to revise the outdated online gambling law of 2001. Australia’s first Interactive Gambling Act did a shoddy job of clarifying the legality of iGaming services, with online sports betting as the only clearly dignified legal means of online gambling. Legal Australia online casino and poker games were left in a gray area, allowing iGaming operators to service Australian players for over 15 years with no regulatory requirements from the Commonwealth.
This new amendment bill strictly prohibits unlicensed iGaming operators from targeting Australian players. Even though the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill’s intention was to increase clarification, it does not feature provisions on how international operators could apply for licenses to enter the Aussie market. As the bill stands, online casino and poker games are practically illegal. The legislation was successfully passed in the House, the Senate (after some revisions) and now the upper House of Parliament.
When the bill was first introduced, large online casino and poker operators existing in the Australian market were left confused as to what their legal status was. Brands like Vera&John, 32Red and 888Poker left the market before the bill entered the House in anticipation of its effects. Gaming Innovation Group, a parent company hosting several large iGaming brands, also left after the bill initially passed through the lower House. PokerStars, one of the world’s leading online gambling brands, remained stagnant within the Australian market throughout the duration of the legislative process. They recently issued a statement to local punters that they would be withdrawing their Australian services sometime in mid-September.
With online poker essentially illegal, the local online poker community has been fighting for the government to overturn their harsh ruling. So far, their efforts have been somewhat successful. The Australian Senate’s Environment and Communications References Committee listened to local players, lawmakers and other stakeholders on the state of the online poker industry in Australia. Arguments on why legalizing online poker would be more beneficial than a strict ban on iGaming were also presented to the committee. The committee is expected to compile a report detailing their inquiry findings, considering all the feedback they received from the local online poker community. Their report is due by September 21, giving ample time for review and at the very least, a fighting chance for those who support online gaming.
Australia is one of the world’s leading gambling markets, so it is a bit surprising that the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill is being so stringent regarding international iGaming operators. Groups like PokerStars, 888Poker and the others who left are losing out on a profitable market. If the committee’s report ends up helping to overturn the government’s ruling, perhaps a new strategy can be drafted, one that includes regulatory requirements satisfying both the Aussie government and international operators looking to do business.