“The plan is simple. We keep on fighting. If poker teaches us one thing it is that we should never go on tilt and never give up! “ – Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA) founder, Joseph Del Duca to Somuchpoker upon the banning of online poker in Australia.
On March 2017, online poker in Australia was drawing dead as legislators pushed ahead with the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. Effective immediately, the bill deemed illegal all forms of online gambling in Australia including online poker.
In an attempt to have the decision reversed, the AOPA campaigned heavily to have their voices heard. With the strong support of Senator David Leyonhjelm, the AOPA’s valiant efforts turned fruitful. In July, the Senate granted an exclusive inquiry on the matter, “Participation of Australians in Online Poker”. Banding together for the cause were 266 Aussies submitting testimonials to the lawmakers expressing their right to online poker. The submissions covered three key points:
- Online poker differs from other forms of online gambling and should therefore be regulated differently
- Prohibition does not prevent Australian consumers from accessing offshore services and rather, regulation offers important protection to consumers
- Prohibition of online poker in Australia represents an unjust restriction on the right of individuals to participate in a widely recognised and accepted leisure activity
To back up their claims, they argued that poker, in general, is a game based more on skill than on chance. It is a peer-to-peer game as opposed to playing the house. It is a social game and a highly competitive one.
They went on to point out that there are benefits to online poker over land-based poker. In online poker, there are many stakes offered making it cheaper than going to a casino. There are many recreational players that would rather play from the comfort of their homes than be in a casino environment. Also, players learn to manage their bankroll.
By prohibiting online poker, this has quickly opened up the black market with many players settling for shady unregulated offshore poker sites. This contradicts the notion of protecting the consumer. A submission by IBus Media Limited wrote,
“A blanket prohibition will see Australian online poker players turn to fly by night poker providers who are not held to high ethical and legal standards by regulators (including gambling, corporate and financial regulators). Reputable market leading companies who are already regulated strictly under licenses granted in other jurisdictions will voluntarily cease to offer their services to Australians despite the Australian market being a big opportunity for them. That is, reputable poker operators who seek to comply with strict licensing standards consistent with the practices applicable to Australian licensed online gambling operators will not be accessible by Australian customers and players will instead be driven to play with unregulated offshore operators, placing Australian players at greater risk with less reputable operators rather than known poker brands who have exited the market in accordance with their obligations under Australian law.”
Another major point addressed was that instead of prohibiting online poker it is better to regulate it. Not only is it safer, it can also be taxed thus creating revenue. They referred heavily on the UK online poker regulatory model.
Conclusion of the Senate report
After much anticipation, the Senate report on the inquiry was finally released. The verdict? Online poker in Australia is still banned however a glimmer of change may be in the horizon.
In a 72-page report, the Environment and Communications References Committee viewed that before any type of online gambling can be reconsidered, a National Consumer Protection Framework must be in place. The committee wrote,
4.15 The Australian Government has acknowledged the need for a strong national consumer protection framework and has undertaken significant work to implement such a scheme to protect users of online gambling services. The Department of Social Services noted that the implementation of such a scheme is absolutely vital before any kind of liberalisation of the online gambling market.
In regards to online poker, the committee acknowledged that “little research has been conducted specifically on the impact of regulated and licensed poker on the prevalence of gambling-related harms, and if there has been an increase in the number of consumers”.
In addition to their conclusions, the committee did offer their recommended action on the subject. They are open to evaluate the game further. This is certainly favorable to online poker’s future as it means, their voices didn’t land on deaf ears.
4.19 The committee commends the Australian Government’s efforts to implement strong consumer protection measures, and harm minimization strategies. The committee recommends that any future consideration of the legalization of online poker should only occur following the complete implementation of the National Consumer Protection Framework.
4.20 The committee recommends that the Department of Social Services support research into the impact of regulatory approaches on online poker, including the relative benefits and harms associated with prohibition and legalization.
This report comes shortly after the Minister for Communications, Senator the Honorable Mitch Fifield, “instructing the Department of Communications and the Arts to undertake some preliminary work examining the feasibility of Australian onshore providers obtaining licenses to operate online poker.”
Views from other Senators
Supporters of online poker, Senator Leyonhjelm and Senator Bernardi, expressed their views as well.
1.10 We support the legalization and regulation of online poker in Australia. It does not pose the risks of harm that other forms of gambling are argued to involve.
1.11 Indeed, the inquiry heard no evidence suggesting anything other than coincidence between poker and problem gambling. While some problem gamblers are known to play poker, problem gamblers also gamble in other ways well known to lead some people into problem gambling.
1.12 The government needs to simply get on with implementing the recommendations in the PC’s 2010 inquiry report into gambling by legalizing and regulating online poker. Online poker is unique, participation and enjoyment is widespread, the risks of harm are low and it is better to have it regulated (and taxed) onshore than driven underground or offshore.
1.13 Other western countries allow it—e.g. the UK, Italy, France, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, or various states within, e.g. in the US8 —it is time Australia’s ban and aversion to online poker also ends.
The Labor Senators’ also shared their thoughts, which differed greatly from Senator Leyonhjelm and Senator Bernardi. They continue to support the IGA 2016 noting that online gambling is a major concern for the country. They did however stress the importance of the National Consumer Protection Framework.
Joseph Del Duca on the report
AOPA founder, Joseph Del Duca, shared his thoughts on the Senate report:
The report confirms that poker is a peer-to-peer game of mixed skill and chance with a very low prevalence of problem gambling.
The report also makes clear that prohibition of online poker does not work; all it does is push Australian players to unscrupulous black market operators. We can confirm that this is already the case. Even though the ban was introduced months ago the majority of Australian players have not stopped playing but have just moved their play to operators who have deliberately chosen to defy Australian law. If these operators don’t care for our laws how likely is it that they will care for our citizens? It is only a matter of time before something goes wrong and Australians are significantly hurt by this government ban. The Australian Online Poker Alliance calls on the Australian Government to act quickly to legalize online poker and remove Aussie players from harms way. Only a safe, regulated online poker market can provide the consumer protections and freedom of choice that Australian poker players deserve.
Ultimately, the goal is to reach a middle ground where both legislators and online poker supporters can benefit. The idea being pushed is to regulate onshore operators under the Australian laws. This will offer the protection Australian customers need through the National Consumer Protection Framework and allow them to play online poker.
Article by Triccia David