Having today passed the ‘Gambling Amendment Bill 2016’, Australia’s federal parliament has closed a number of regulatory loopholes thus outlawing online poker and in-play sports betting.
Since November 2016, the Australian Senate has been reviewing the propositions of the Amendment Bill, which sought to ‘bridge the loopholes found in the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001’.
The restructuring of Australia’s gambling laws has split political stakeholders, amid the growth of remote betting operators targeting Australian consumers.
Nevertheless, industry stakeholders have urged the Australian government to bring clarity to its market by modernising the Gambling Act developing new regulations that would be in-tune with digital dynamics and modern consumer trends.
In preparation for the introduction of Amendment Bill provisions, operators 888poker and Vera&John have shut down their market operations.
Leading online poker room PokerStars will likely leave the market, as the operator does not want to operate in ‘black or grey market’ territories.
With regards to sports betting, it remains to be seen whether international operators such as William Hill and Ladbrokes Australia will close their in-play betting functionalities such as click-to-call and cash-out mechanisms.
In October 2015, William Hill Australia won its federal court battle against the Australian Communications & Media Authority, to keep its click-to-call services after the Federal police declared that it would not investigate the operator for breaching 2001 Gambling Act policy.
Today’s decision by Parliament has been criticised by industry stakeholders and supporting MPs. Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm stated that the amendments were simply ‘nanny state legislation, based on the assumption that prohibition works’.
What this means for online operators
The Amendment Bill sets out a distinction between “regulated interactive gambling services” and “prohibited interactive gambling services”.
The key distinction between these categories of services is that no party is permitted to provide to persons present in Australia a prohibited interactive gambling service, while regulated interactive gambling services can be provided, but only by licensed Australian operators under the terms of their licence.
The Amendment Bill amends section 15 of the IGA so that, where a person provides a prohibited interactive gambling service to customers in Australia, they are liable both for a criminal offence and a civil penalty.
The effect of these amendments is to make it clear to any offshore online wagering operators that it is not legal under Australian law to provide those services to persons present in Australia.
This will be emphasised by the “name and shame” policies to be pursued by the ACMA in the event of a contravention of the IGA.
The significant penalties that may be imposed in respect of contraventions of the IGA is also evidence of the Australian government’s position that it will take a strong stance to penalise any person who seeks to conduct and/or promote a prohibited interactive gambling service to persons present in Australia.